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The ULTIMATE Guide To The New Champions League

4 minute read Published April 16, 2024

Starting next season, the Champions League, Europa League and the Europa Conference League will have a completely new look. It’s not the first time European competition has gone through a dramatic change. In 1991 the group stage of the Champions League was added. In 1999, a second group stage was added and subsequently removed in 2004. Just to name a few.

Surely, all of these changes have been heavily discussed in the media and by fans but perhaps none more than the one being added for next season. Most of these changes apply to all competitions. We’ll try to keep it as short as possible.

New League Phase

The first and most significant change is the reworking of the first phase of the competition. The group stage becomes the league phase. Rather than eight groups of four teams, all teams will now compete in the same league. The number of teams will also be increased. It will move from 32 to 36.

Through the league phase of the competition, each team will play eight games. That’s an extra two games per team. Every team plays four games at home and four away. The opponents will be determined by seeding as well as country. This way, teams from the same country won’t play each other early in the competition.

Teams that finish first through eighth will automatically qualify for the knockout round of the competition. Teams that finish below 24th will be out of the competition. Teams in ninth through 24th go on to a playoff round.


The playoffs is a round of two games against the same opponent. The winner of the playoff goes on to keep competing in the same competition. The loser drops down a level, much like the third placed team in the current group stages. For example, if a team loses their playoff round in the Champions League, they get a spot in the Europa League.

Then it’s on to the knockouts. From when the round of sixteen starts the tournament stays the same.

The four new spots

So, as the first stage goes from 32 to 36 games, there are now four new spots available, how will these be allocated? 

The first spot is another direct qualification spot for the fifth best league. Currently, the fifth ranked league in UEFAs club coefficient gets two spots. Next season, under this new format, that league will get three spots.

Then there are two spots awarded to the best performing leagues in the season before. That counts all European club competitions; Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.

The final spot will be added to the qualifications. Currently, four teams qualify for the Champions League after winning qualification. Next season, that’ll be five.

Pros and Cons

So why are these changes being made? And what are the drawbacks? 

First of all, more football! Eight games instead of six, means almost 100 more games will be played in each competition. There are a few problems with this though. Football players these days already play so much. The amount of football increases the risk of injury dramatically. It wasn’t that long ago that UEFA and its Nations League added more football for the players. And here comes even more games.

This also gives the big, rich clubs even more of an edge. The clubs that can afford a deeper bench with quality players will have an edge as the teams will have to be rotated even more.

More big games and earlier on. This new format allows for big teams to meet early on in the competition. Where previously, the groups usually had two big teams playing eachother twice, each team will now play seven different teams. So instead of return games, there'll be two games with different opponents.

More teams get the chance to play in Europe. Another four teams qualify for each competition, which means twelve more teams total will get the chance to compete in European competitions.

It doesn’t do much to improve the number of countries represented. In the past, the four qualifying spots where smaller leagues had a chance to make it to Europe made up 12.5%, with five spots in this bigger format, they’ll make up 13.8%. An almost insignificant increase in the chance of get those lovely underdog runs, like Nicosia in 2012

You could also argue that the league format is more fair. Isn’t that part of the fun with cups though? Anything can happen, the ball is round? 

Next Season

All of these changes go into effect next season. So, these extra spots – who’ll get them?

The first spot, awarded to the fifth best league’s third placed team will go to France. They’re ranked fifth and the Netherlands, who are in sixth won’t be able to catch up.

From the two spots awarded to the league with the best record in the past year, it seems likely that Italy will get one of them. 

For the second spot, England and Germany are neck and neck, with Germany slightly ahead. Leverkusen have a 2-0 lead on West Ham and are in insane form, they look likely to keep performing for Germany for that spot. Liverpool are in a tough situation against Atalanta and look unlikely to improve England's chances. It might come down to Bayern - Arsenal. Whichever team and the country they’re from wins, will have a very good chance at that extra spot.

Any change will get a lot of criticism, it’s just the nature of change. With football being so important to so many people, it’ll be heated. It remains to be seen whether this change will improve the game.

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