Major reforms to UEFA club competitions planned

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UEFA headquarters will be the scene of important debates this week. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

UEFA enters a crucial week as it prepares to reform the formats of all UEFA club competitions from 2024.

Less than a week after six enticing semi-final second legs, the UEFA Executive Committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss a host of topics. If the green light is given, UEFA will detail their first press release from last year. If the vote does not take place, further discussions will ensue.

In this two-part series, I’ll make some predictions about the changes to the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League in the 2024-25 season. These forecasts will reflect what has been made public, changes made in recent years, as well as conversations I have had with people knowledgeable about the situation. (To see part 2, click here.)

The offer of coefficient places at UCL will not take place

I’ll start with the most controversial question of the lot. The buzz surrounding the Champions League reformatting is to award two spots to teams that failed to qualify for the competition’s new league phase by finishing at a position that would have originally qualified them (top 4 in the Premier League, for example). example).

The two teams that finish just below the automatic Champions League places but have the best coefficient points over a five-year period would still be allowed to enter the competition. Here is an overview of the current club coefficient rankings as well as how these points are calculated.

There are two main reasons why I don’t think this is approved. Firstly, there is widespread backlash from clubs, leagues and fan groups over this potential addition. Some have gone so far as to compare it to the failure of the European Super League a year ago. The idea is that it is another way of allowing the biggest clubs, who have the most coefficient points, another entry into UEFA’s premier club competition, even if they have a season less than the normal. It could damage UEFA’s image, so I don’t see that happening.

The other reason I don’t think this will happen is the recent meetings UEFA had with fan groups. If they want fair competition with better access for all, this is the wrong way to go.

I expect these places to be allocated to the two highest ranked domestic leagues in the UEFA National Association Rankings which do not have an automatic place available (associations 11 and 12). In 2018, when UEFA changed the Champions League to the current format, the two aforementioned associations were deprived of group stage places which were given to non-champions from the biggest leagues. The best way to compensate these countries is to give back what was taken from them.

New league phase with eight matches instead of 10

Another major issue is the number of matches played in the “league stage”, which will replace the current group stage.

The proposal is that the 36 teams will be placed in a single table and will face a number of teams of different levels. Dubbed the “Swiss system”, UEFA would have teams play 10 different opponents in this “league phase”.

This has led to complaints from clubs and players and I don’t think UEFA will increase the number of games that much.

European Leagues, an organization representing more than 30 domestic leagues, announced they had just eight games at this stage. I think that will be the result, as it is considerably easier to plan. And with the ranking system in place (which probably won’t change), it would seem easier to design a schedule with eight games rather than 10.

France will have four places in the Champions League

I have seen mixed reports regarding the number of places available for the fifth ranked national association (currently France, and likely to remain so).

It has been confirmed that one of four additional places in the competition proper will be awarded to France, meaning that the third-placed side in Ligue 1 will now enter directly into the league stage instead of the third round. qualifying (note that this does not happen if the Europa League winner also earns a Champions League place via their league, at which the third-best Ligue 1 team takes the vacant group stage spot).

The big question, however, is whether the fourth-placed team in France will take that spot in the qualifying rounds. My thought is yes. The reason for this is due to the lack of change in the so-called qualification path of non-champions. There are still two teams from this section that will make the championship phase. This includes nine domestic league runners-up from mid-tier leagues, the third-placed France team and another third-placed team from another country (currently Portugal).

I think the fourth team in Ligue 1 will end up in this way, replacing the third. This will require fewer changes. There are articles suggesting this will happen, so I will go along with it and expect it to happen.

More teams will be in Europe in total

In addition to my update on France receiving one more Champions League spot, I think there will be a few more places added to the Conference League via the qualifying rounds. It would be to one or two associations that currently have four European places (associations below the top 15). I would say that a maximum of three additional places will be made available.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin made it clear that no access list has yet been determined, which supports my idea that one or two more places could be added as a result.

UEFA Champions League semi-finals will still have two legs

This is a more recent development, but there are strong rumors that UEFA are pushing to turn the semi-final into a “Final Four” tournament played over a week at a pre-determined venue. The idea is to have a football festival that would also feature the UEFA Women’s Champions League and UEFA Youth League finals.

The president of PSG, Nasser al-Khelaïfi, would be the strongest supporter of this change. He also received support from some of the European Club Association, another body made up of representatives of the main clubs from each of UEFA’s member associations. Al-Khelaïfi is also the president of this association.

While UEFA is open to implementing this, I don’t see it happening. The recent club competition semi-finals have brought an electrifying level of excitement. Replacing home fixtures with another pair of neutral venue fixtures doesn’t seem likely. This article from The Athletic highlights the pros and cons. I’ve also heard that there still isn’t enough support for it, so I doubt the idea of ​​a “Final Four” will ever happen.

Champions League matches will remain on Tuesdays and Wednesdays

UEFA have considered establishing exclusive Champions League weeks, with some league stage matches taking place on Thursdays. In a recent interview with Diario AS, UEFA’s Čeferin said he saw no reason for the premier club competition to start playing on Thursdays, especially with the Europa League and Europa Conference League scheduled for this. that evening.

I agree with Čeferin, so much so that I think this plan will be thrown in the trash. Going further, I don’t expect to see weeks set aside only for Champions League matches (apart from the final). As he mentioned, there is no good reason for this to happen. Thus, the Champions League will remain on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

There will be a second part to be released about this, so stay tuned for the second half of these impending changes to top club football competitions.

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