As you may have already heard, there will be a new UEFA Champions League format starting in 2024/25. The current season is the last one with the traditional group stage and knockout round, the format which was implemented in the 2000s.
The 2024/25 UEFA Champions League will use the Swiss-system format, which is common in chess tournaments but has never been applied in a major football tournament before. We will go into details below, but the main point to keep in mind is that there will be no groups going forward, the total number of teams will increase from 32 to 36, and the teams will be placed in a single league.
New UEFA Champions League Format Explained
League Instead Of Groups
The group stage will be abolished starting with the 2024/25 UEFA Champions League season and all 36 qualified teams will be placed in a single league instead. Next, the teams will be divided into four different pots based on their UEFA coefficient, from highest to lowest, with Pot 1 also including the previous UCL winner regardless of their coefficient.
Next up, UEFA will hold a draw to determine who plays who in the league stage. The Swiss-system format can be quite difficult getting used to, so we will explain it using an example.
Let’s say we have Team A from Pot 1. Team A will be drawn against two teams from Pot 1, two teams from Pot 2, two teams in Pot 3 and two teams in Pot 4. Team A will play four matches at home and four matches away in total, one home and one away match against a team from each pot as decided by the draw.
The total number of points at the end of the league stage will decide Team A’s position in the standings and whether or not the team advances to the knockout stage. The same principle applies to the remaining 35 teams, with league stage matches taking place between September 2024 and January 2025.
Additional Qualifying Spots
UEFA has introduced a new rule that grants two coefficient-based qualifying spots. These spots will be given to the associations with the highest and second-highest coefficient points gained during the previous season.
UEFA coefficient points are given based on results in individual matches (wins, draws and losses) as well as tournament progress. So, when Manchester City won the UEFA Champions League 2022/23, England got coefficient points not only for the individual wins, but also when the Citizens reached the round of 16, quarterfinals and so on.
In 2022/23, the associations with the highest coefficient gained were England (Manchester City won the UEFA Champions League, West Ham won the UEFA Conference League) and Italy (Inter Milan, AS Roma and Fiorentina reached the final in UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League respectively). These coefficients-based spots will likely change every season.
Knockout Stage Changes
The new format will also impact the logic of the knockout stage. To begin with, the teams that place between first and eighth place in the league stage will advance to the round of 16. The teams that place between 9th and 24th will be drawn against each other and face off in a two-legged play-off round for the chance to advance to the round of 16. Teams 25th and below will be eliminated.
In the round of 16, the teams between first and eighth place will face the winners of the play-off round in a two-legged tie. The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will be played as usual.
Due to the change of format, the total number of matches in one UEFA Champions League season will increase from 125 to a staggering 189.
Starting with 2024/25, a team could end up playing a maximum of 17 matches during one UEFA Champions League season as compared to the 13 total matches that a finalist played before.
Will The UEFA Europa League and UEFA Conference League Formats Change As Well?
The short answer is yes, the two other European competitions will also implement the new Swiss-system format. The only difference here is that the UEFA Conference League will have six league stage matches instead of the eight matches in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. The teams’ position in the league standings will determine who advanced to the knockout rounds.
Another important change is that teams finishing 25th and lower in the UEFA Champions League will be eliminated instead of moving down to UEFA Europa League as happened with third-placed teams in previous seasons.
What Does It Have To Do With the European Super League?
You may recall that a similar league format was proposed by the European Super League. The announcement of the European Super League received a lot of backlash from both fans and official bodies like UEFA and FIFA, so there has been little news in that regard since 2021. As a reminder, UEFA and FIFA threatened the clubs with sanctions if they proceeded with the independent ESL project.
However, one important update is that the European Court of Justice has prevented UEFA and FIFA from sanctioning the clubs if they decided to create a separate league, declaring it unlawful under European Union laws.
Theoretically, this makes possible the establishment of the European Super League, although such a project would require a long preparation and it is very unlikely that it will happen before the start of the 2024/25 campaign. Thus, the 2024/25 UEFA Champions League in its new format will probably remain the primary European club competition for the time being.
Nevertheless, there is growing dissatisfaction with the new format as well. The fans see it as an opportunity to earn more money without regard to the sporting aspect, while the clubs rightfully complain about the increased number of matches.