Impending changes to UEFA club tournaments
Earlier this year, UEFA finalized major changes to the Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League to begin with the 2024-25 season. However, few details were published regarding the format beyond of the basics.
A document released Monday, Oct. 17, encapsulates more of the changes that will transpire. The information comes from the European Clubs Association, a group of leading clubs from UEFA’s member associations. Inside the document, items such as the access list that will be used, the calendar, knockout stage formula and details surrounding the qualifying rounds were revealed. Here is a rundown of some of the most significant findings.
The new format itself and calendar
Before the document’s release, it was already known that each of the European club competitions would do away with a group stage. Instead, each tournament would increase from 32 to 36 teams, with the clubs being put in one large table. From there, teams would meet eight different opponents (six in the Europa Conference League) home or away.
The top eight sides at the end of this new format – referred to as the “Swiss model” – would qualify for the Round of 16. The clubs finishing 9th through 24th would enter the knockout round playoffs, something currently used in the Europa League and Conference League. The eight winners will then join the top eight from the league phase.
As previously noted, there will be 10 weeks to allow for the league phases to be completed. Each club competition will have one week dedicated for that tournament alone. For the Champions League and Europa League, that is expected to happen in September on the first matchday. The Europa Conference League will have theirs in mid-December for its final round of fixtures.
It is expected that there will be two weeks of play in each of the months where the group stage is currently played, plus January. Only the Champions League and Europa League will have league phase games in the new year.
Changes to knockout round format
There will no longer be a new draw after each knockout round. Instead, UEFA will set up a bracket similar to that used in tennis or college basketball. Teams will be seeded into the bracket, with no reseeding to take place. The top two teams from the league phase will be on opposite sides of the bracket. The same will apply to the next two best sides, and so on down to the 15th and 16th best teams. It is yet to be known whether the same will apply to teams 17 through 24.
From there, a draw will be held to see which half of the bracket each team will belong to, with the paired teams on opposite sides. Another new change will see teams from the same country no longer separated from the knockout round. As things stand, teams from the same national association cannot face each other until the quarterfinals (exception occurs in the Europa League playoff round).
Major changes to access list will benefit everyone in some way
There are several adjustments made to the access list. As already known, there will be at least 33 domestic cup winners that will enter the Europa League in either the qualifying round or the league phase. That could increase to 37 depending on re-balancing. It is also confirmed that there will be a minimum of 37 countries represented in the league phase across the three tournaments, an increase of four from the current format.
Along with the cup winners, seven teams – one from each country ranked 6 to 12 in the access list – will also enter the Europa League qualifiers. That is an important change that will benefit the leagues just below the “Big 5.”
The Champions League preliminary round will be terminated. As of right now, the domestic champions of the four lowest ranked countries in the access list play a mini-tournament for the right to enter the competition’s first round of qualifying. That will no longer occur, with the four teams automatically entering the first qualifying stage.
Finally, the Europa League will now have four qualifying rounds instead of two. That will bring it in line with the other two club competitions. This was done to account for the minimum 25 more clubs that will start their continental campaign in the second tier tournament. The playoff round will no longer have a Priority Grouping, which was something very complicated for fans to understand.
Access list related to titleholders to be re-balanced
The other major changes to the competitions will occur regarding the titleholders. This is arguably the biggest point of the lot. While the “wildcard” idea was scrapped for the league phase, it was not entirely wiped altogether.
As it has been for many years, the defending champion of each UEFA club competition is assured a place in the group stage in the following season. The UCL and UEL titleholders enter in the former’s group phase, while the UECL winner enters the UEL automatically.
Whenever a team wins and qualifies for the competition via domestic performance, the champion from the highest ranked national association not assured a group stage slot would take the vacated spot in the tournament. That will now change.
Under the aforementioned scenario, the new change will see the highest ranked domestic champion in the qualifying rounds, by UEFA club coefficient, take the extra place.
If the same idea occurs, but the Europa League titleholder qualifies for the Champions League domestically, then the highest ranked team in UCL qualifying, champion or non-champion, will take the spot.
In the event where the UECL winner qualifies for the UCL or UEL group stage domestically, the highest ranked team in UEL qualifying, again by UEFA club coefficient, will enter the tournament’s league phase instead.
It is important to note that in the latter two scenarios mentioned, there is no leapfrogging allowed. That is to say, if there are two teams from the same country in Champions League qualifying, then only the domestic champion is considered when looking at the highest ranked team and not the runners-up. Similarly, in the Europa League, only the cup winners will be taken into consideration, not the third-placed teams from countries 8 to 12 on the access list.
And breathe … That is a lot to take in. More and more seems to change across every cycle in the UEFA club competitions. Rest assured, UEFA certainly knew what it was going for when making all of these amendments.