UEFA is making some big changes to the Champions League format from next season.

The changes, which have been known about for several years, will radically alter the look and feel of the tournament over the group stages through to a new Playoff Round ahead of the Round of 16.

From the Round of 16 onwards, the format of the competition will remain the same.

A new format means that companies such as bet365 Sport, which offer odds on both the Champions League outright winners, as well as all the games in the competition, will have to factor in these changes when considering their odds for the tournament.

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So, what are these changes to the Champions League Format? Let’s take a look.

Champions League Group Stage – Pre-2023-24

After the preliminary rounds, the 32 teams that qualified for the Group Stages of the Champions League were seeded and then drawn into one of eight groups.

The teams then played the other teams in their group twice, one at home, once away, over a total of six games in the group stage.

The top two teams qualified for the Knockout Phase Round of 16, with the 3rd place team in each group going into the Europa League Playoffs.

From the Round of 16 onwards each tie is played over two legs, one at home and one away with the aggregate winner over the two games progressing through to the next round.

The final is played at a pre-selected venue which is usually a neutral ground, but occasionally finalists have played the final on their home ground (such as AS Roma in 1984).

Now let’s outline the major changes coming into play for the 2024/25 season.

Champions League Changes – 2024/25 Onwards

From 2024/25 onwards the Champions League Format will change from the group stages.

There will still be a preliminary competition where teams not pre-qualified for the group stages will be able to play their way into the group stage of the tournament.

In this new Champions League format, the group stage will comprise of 36 teams, four more than the previous 32.

There will also not be eight separate groups, but instead teams will be ranked in just one league.

Additionally, instead of six Group Stage games, teams will play Eight games in the new Champions League format. Four at home, four away.

The teams will be seeded into four pots for the draw.

  • Pot A will have the 9 top ranked teams
  • Pot B the next 9 in the FIFA rankings
  • Pot C are the teams ranked 19th to 27th
  • Pot D the lowest ranked teams in the tournament

Teams will then be drawn fixtures, where they will face one team from Pot A at home, and a different team from Pot A away from home. They will also be drawn opponents from the other three pots, one home and one away, to define their fixture schedule.

If teams from the same domestic league are drawn to play each other they will be moved to another set of fixtures, unless that domestic league has more than four teams qualified for this new phase of the tournament.

Additionally, due to the complexity of how the fixture lists will be decided, the draw will this time be drawn by computer, rather than by picking balls from bowls.

Once the eight fixtures for each team have been played, the league stage table will be completed.

The top eight teams in the table will be seeded through to the Round of 16 in the Champions League knockout phase.

The teams ranked 9th to 32nd will be drawn to face each other in a new Champions League Playoff Round of eight matches, which will take place prior to the Round of 16. The winners of these games will go through to the Round of 16 along with the 8 seeded teams.

But the teams that finish in the bottom eight of the league table are eliminated from European competition this season.

Are There Any Benefits To The New Champions League Format?

UEFA has highlighted several benefits it feels that this new format offers to teams competing in the Champions League. These include: –

  • Teams will be eligible to receive more money from the Group Stages as they will play two more games than previously.
  • The additional games will provide more games to watch for fans both at the stadia across Europe and on TV.
  • The new format will promote a larger percentage of games between the top ranking teams in Europe than it does at present.
  • There will be more chance for the lower ranked teams in the Champions League to reach the Round of 16 as they can qualify for the playoffs, rather than dropping into the Europa League.
  • With more places in the competition available each season, this means there will be more chance for the top teams in the top European Leagues to qualify for the tournament.
  • Two nations will receive one additional Champions League berth (5 instead of 4).
  • There are likely to be far fewer ‘dead rubber’ matches between two teams that cannot qualify for the next phase of the tournament.

However, critics of the proposed new Champions League format have highlighted several issues that they feel will detract value from the competition. They include: –

  • Fans not being in favour of the new “Swiss system” for the new League stage of the Champions League as one team can benefit from a far easier selection of fixtures than another.
  • Clubs who are already complaining about the workload they face, will have to play at minimum an additional two games in the Champions League than previously. However, that could be as much as four additional games if they qualify for the Playoffs rather than as a Round of 16 seed.  That comes in what is an already crowded fixture list for most teams.
  • More games for players means that players are at greater risk of injuries and issues relating to fatigue.
  • By adding a greater number of top teams into the Champions League, it dilutes the quality of teams competing in the other two UEFA tournaments.
  • Fans of smaller teams in smaller domestic leagues have complained the new system is very much in favour of the bigger teams in bigger leagues.

Why The Change?

This change was brought about by UEFA in response to the threat of a breakaway Super League featuring many of the top clubs in European football.

While the new changes does cater to the elite somewhat, it also does offer smaller teams more chance to reach the later stages of the competition.

However, few managers at the top clubs will be happy at playing a further two, or even possibly four, Champions League games each season.

Players unions are also unlikely to be happy given the extra demands likely to be placed on players.

However, as with any change, the proof will come only when we have played through the first year or two of the new Champions League format.

But if clubs make more money and fans lap up the extra games and new look tournament, then you can bet the extra financial incentives will outweigh the negatives.