Champions League new format: How Premier League gets 5 places

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The Champions League will take on a whole new look next season — with more teams and a brand-new format.

Four more clubs will take part in the group stage, with 36 competing, and the two best-performing leagues in Europe this season will each get one extra place for 2024-25.

What are chances of the English Premier League getting one of those extra places? And how will that affect the rest of the division?

We break down how the Champions League will work from 2024-25 and why it’s important this season.

Pots set for 2023-24 Champions League group stage draw

The 2023-24 UCL group stage draw, the last of the old format, takes place at 5 p.m. UK / midday ET on Thursday.

Who gets the four extra UCL places?

2 places will go to the best performing leagues in Europe in this current season. The place goes to the next team in the league which has not automatically qualified. Last season, that would have been Liverpool and Atalanta. These places are most likely go to clubs from the top leagues.

1 place will go to the third-placed team in the league ranked fifth in the UEFA coefficient (this is effectively the average performance of all its clubs in Europe.) Last season that was France, so Marseille would have gone direct to the UCL group phase, with Stade Rennais promoted from the Europa League into UCL qualifying. However, the Netherlands overtook France into fifth at the start of this season, so the Eredivisie could get the extra place for the 2024-25 domestic season.

1 place will go to the qualifying path for champions. Four teams used to come through this route into the league phase, but from next season it will be five. The place cannot go to a team from the top 10 leagues as their champions do not go through qualifying.

How many Premier League clubs will qualify for the Champions League?

Like in recent seasons, England’s top four teams will qualify automatically for the Champions League group stage automatically.

The same applies to Spain’s LaLiga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A.

How can five teams qualify for the Champions League?

The two leagues that have the best coefficients this season will get an extra place in the UCL group stage next season.

If England is in the top two, fifth in the Premier League will qualify for the Champions League. Individual club coefficient isn’t relevant; it goes to the next team in the domestic table.

The good news for the Premier League is it has been in the top two in six of the past seven seasons.

2016-17: Spain and England
2017-18: England and Spain
2018-19: England and Spain
2019-20: Spain and Germany
2020-21: England and Spain
2021-22: England and the Netherlands
2022-23: England and Italy

In 2019-20, Germany pipped England to second place by just one victory.

So the Premier League is pretty much nailed on for five UCL places?

English clubs have been dominant and have comfortably been in the top two leagues in the past three seasons. It’s looking good, but there’s a twist.

The Premier League will have eight clubs in Europe this season, as West Ham United won the UEFA Europa Conference League and didn’t qualify for Europe domestically; it means every win by an English club will be worth slightly less to the coefficient score because it’s an average of eight clubs rather than seven.

The last time England had eight clubs in Europe, in 2015-16, it only finished third in the season’s coefficient ranking — though both Southampton and West Ham failed to make it through the qualifying rounds.

This season, all eight teams will take part in the group stages of one of the three competitions, with Aston Villa effectively through Europa Conference League qualifying having won 5-0 at Hibernian in the first leg of the playoff round.

England’s place could be further strengthened this week, as other leagues may not have a full complement of teams in the group stage. From last week’s first legs, LaLiga side Osasuna lost at home to Belgium’s Club Brugge, the Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt drew at Bulgarian side Levski Sofia and Serie A’s Fiorentina were beaten at Austria’s Rapid Vienna.

On only two occasions in the past eight seasons has a league finished in the top two coefficient places without a full set of teams in the group stage — both times being the Premier League: 2018-19 (Burnley did not qualify), 2015-16 (West Ham did not qualify.)

All things considered, it would take a very poor season for the Premier League not to get five places. Brighton & Hove Albion and Villa, along with Newcastle United who could be handed a difficult Champions League group, would have to struggle badly to put England’s fifth spot in serious doubt.

When will we find out who gets the extra places?

In many seasons it may be obvious in March, once we know which leagues have teams through to the quarterfinals of the three European competitions.

However, the 2019-20 season shows that it can go right down to the wire. Germany didn’t overtake the Premier League for second place until Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the final of the Champions League. If that’s repeated this season, we wouldn’t know which league gets the second additional spot until the UCL final takes place June 1.

It would leave two clubs in the domestic leagues praying for the right result in the final. In 2019-20, Bayer Leverkusen and Leicester City finished fifth in Germany and England respectively. Leverkusen would have needed Bayern to win the UCL final to get the place, while Leicester required Bayern to lose the match.

We could also hypothetically see a situation where, for instance, Arsenal winning the Champions League could hand fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur a place in the Champions League.

What happens to the other European places in the Premier League?

The two Champions League places for performance this season are an extra place on top of what they are awarded by right for the associations. The Premier League would have eight teams in Europe.

The top five would go into the UCL, with sixth into the Europa League along with the FA Cup winners. The Carabao Cup winners would get a place in the Conference League.

If the domestic cup winners qualify for Europe, the places transfer to the league; it would therefore be possible for eighth in the league to get a spot in Europe.

What’s the maximum number of places the Premier League can have in the UCL?

Under the old system, a maximum of five clubs from one association could play in the Champions League. It meant that in the unlikely event teams from the same league won the Champions League and Europa League, yet both finished outside the UCL places domestically, then fourth would have to surrender their place and drop into the UEL.

It’s now possible that seven Premier League teams could earn a place in the UCL: The top five, and the winners of the UCL and the UEL.

It would also technically be possible to have 11 Premier League teams in Europe: The usual allocation of seven, plus the extra Champions League place and the titleholders of all three European competitions (if they finished outside a European position.)

UEFA has yet to take a decision on a maximum number for either. Sources have told ESPN that the UEFA ExCo meeting in the first quarter of 2024 is likely to finalise these numbers, and if there is a limit how it would affect other clubs from that league.

What’s going to be different about the Champions League?

From next season, 36 clubs will take part in the Champions League and they will all be in one big league table. The old (current) format saw 32 clubs divided into eight groups of four teams.

Champions League 2024-25: What it could look like, fixtures, etc

There will still be a draw at start of the season, but only to create the league-phase fixtures: eight games for each club, four at home and four away.

The 36 teams will be divided into four pots of nine. Pot 1 will have the titleholders of the UCL and the eight clubs with the best coefficients. The champions of the top domestic leagues and the UEL titleholders will no longer be prioritised for Pot 1. Pots 2 to 4 are ordered on club coefficient.

Each club will be drawn to play two teams from each pot — one home, one away. So, unlike in the current format, a club in Pot 1 will play a game against two other clubs from Pot 1.

As a general rule, clubs from the same association will not be drawn against each other. However, to avoid deadlocking, the leagues with four or more clubs could play one match against another team from the same country.

From the final table, the top eight go direct to the round of 16. Positions nine to 24 will enter a playoff to earn the other eight places in the round of 16. Positions 25 to 36 are eliminated from Europe. There is no country protection in any of the knockout rounds.

Unlike in previous seasons, there is no drop down of teams from the Champions League to the Europa League after the league phase. Once eliminated, your European season is over.

There will be only one knockout-round draw for the round of 16 onwards, with teams seeded based upon their final league-phase position and no country protection. It means it’s important where you finish in the table; the higher you are, the more favourable knockout route you will have — on paper at least.

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The Europa League and Conference League (it loses “Europa” from its name next season) will follow the same format, with both expanded to 36 clubs.

Anything else?

Yes. There has been a change to what is called “rebalancing,” which is what happens if the UEL or UCL titleholder has qualified domestically.

For instance, last season Manchester City won the Champions League but finished in the top four in the Premier League — but they didn’t require the place reserved for the titleholders. That place was allocated to the next league in UEFA’s coefficient table, meaning Shakhtar Donetsk didn’t have to qualify.

But as of next season, rebalancing will be based upon a club’s coefficient rather than a league’s.

UCL titleholder place: Goes to best individual club coefficient from the champions path. This season that would have been Dinamo Zagreb.

UEL titleholder place in UCL: Goes to best individual club coefficient from the either champions or non-champions path. Dinamo Zagreb are still the top ranked, and if both titleholder places were available, the next to benefit would have been Rangers.

UECL titleholder place in UEL: Goes to best individual club coefficient in qualifying. This season, that would be Ajax Amsterdam.



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