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UEFA Champions League changes: 36 teams, top clubs facing each other earlier in the competition and fast-changing, unpredictable standings

Riffing off UEFA Super League and English second division knockout playoffs, Europe’s grandest tournament looks to jazz up its jaded format

The UEFA Champions League format is set to see a re-jig, with hints of the Super League as well as the second division English Championship’s knockout playoffs added to the group stage format of the top tier European club competition. This is on top of the change in format that began earlier where the away goal advantage was removed for the knockout stages.

What will the group stage of the UEFA Champions League look like?

The biggest change that UEFA have made is to turn the group stage into a 36-team league competition, instead of 32 earlier. A team will play eight matches against eight teams, four home and four away where the top eight teams directly qualify to the Round-of-16. Then the teams ranked from ninth to 24th, will take part in knockout style playoff games.

The best eight from here join the top eight teams in the Round-of-16 stage. Teams ranked 17th to 24th will be eliminated from all competition at this stage. Losers of the knockout style playoff games will also be eliminated with no place in the UEFA Europa League.

The format was unanimously agreed upon by all European stakeholders, according to UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin.

“I am really pleased that it was a unanimous decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, with the European Club Association, European Leagues and national associations all agreeing with the proposal made. Another proof that European football is more united than ever.”

How will the eight different opponents for a team be decided?

In order to find out which team faces who, all teams are set to be ranked in four seeding pots. A team that is drawn will then play two opponents from each pot with one match being played at home and one played on the road for a total of eight ‘league’ games.

What does the new group stage format essentially mean?

Firstly, top clubs face each other earlier in the competition and every result right up until the final day of the group stage has raised stakes. A loss could be catastrophic, goal differences could uproot the best laid plans and UEFA promises that the new system will ensure ‘fast changing and unpredictable standings.’

The UEFA website stated, “The changes made are designed to secure the positive future of European football at every level and meet the evolving needs of all its stakeholders.”

How will the extra four teams be decided?

Similar to how the top 32 teams are decided. Purely based on the position of the club in their respective league in the previous season, as well as each country’s position in the association club coefficient ranking. Out of the four slots, the first will go to the club ranked third in the association ranked fifth in the coefficient rankings.

Slot 2, according to UEFA, will be awarded to ‘a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the Champions path of the competition’s qualifying process, which will consist of four qualifying rounds.’ Slots 3 and 4 will go to the ‘associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season’.

What about the Europa League and the Europa Conference League?

Both competitions will undergo similar changes to the league format, and the third tier of UEFA’s club competition will be renamed the UEFA Conference League. The Conference League will also be slightly different at the league stage with six matches instead of the eight group stage matches that the Champions League as well as Europa League will have.

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