Champions League 2024: Embracing the Swiss Model
A New Dawn for the Champions League
The impending culmination of this season’s Champions League semi-finals signifies more than just the climax of another year of Europe’s premier football competition. It’s the end of an era. As the season draws to a close, so does the current Champions League format. This has been the battlefield of Europe’s titans for many years, but starting from the 2024-25 season, we’re stepping into new territory.
A year ago, the UEFA Executive Committee convened in Vienna and green-lit a new format. The lengthy discussions and political wrangling that preceded this decision are finally bearing fruit. There’s a sense of excitement, uncertainty, and, for some, apprehension. What does this new format mean for teams, fans, and the sport itself?
From 2024, the Champions League will be significantly more inclusive. The number of teams will surge from 32 to 36, triggering an increase in the total matches from 125 to 189. The traditional group stage will be replaced by a league phase – a so-called “Swiss model”.
Instead of the originally proposed ten matches, each team will now play eight matches in the league phase, half of them on home soil and half away.
From these initial rounds, the top eight teams will automatically proceed to the knockout stage. The remaining teams, those who finish between ninth and 24th, will have to battle it out in a two-legged play-off to secure a place in the last 16.
New Scoring System
One major shift is the method by which two of the extra four slots in the competition will be awarded. Instead of using the heavily criticised five-year historical coefficients, these places will be allocated to nations whose clubs performed best in the previous season’s European competitions.
Applying this new approach to the current 2022-23 season, the additional places would go to England and the Netherlands. Interestingly, Premier League teams would have snagged one of these extra slots in three of the last four campaigns.
This shift implies that the Premier League could potentially have up to seven teams participating in the Champions League in a given season, depending on performance in European competitions.
Another tweak to the format is the possibility of clubs from the same country clashing in the early knockout stages. Previously, these domestic encounters were prevented until the quarter-finals, but the new rules have uncorked this bottle.
This new format could cause a ripple of satisfaction across Spain, Germany, and Italy, who will likely gain from the allocation of the second extra spot. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for smaller countries; they could still snag one of the coefficient places, offering them a chance to shine on the big stage.
Nevertheless, not everyone is popping champagne. France’s Ligue 1 voiced its dissatisfaction with the reduction of the league phase to eight matches, down from ten. They had anticipated an increase in European matches when reducing their domestic league to 18 teams.
Premier League Reaction
Sources within the Premier League, on condition of anonymity, have expressed their welcome for the new format, citing UEFA’s decision to drop the historical coefficient places and reduce the number of group-stage matches from 10 to eight as a particular cause for celebration.
The belief is that this new format will help bridge the gap between the smaller and bigger teams. However, some critics suggest that it might instead widen the financial gap due to the increased broadcast revenue from the competition.
UEFA expects the revamped competitions to significantly boost revenue. Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA competitions director, recently projected an optimistic range between €4.6 billion and €4.8 billion in revenue.
Years of heated discussions and political manoeuvring among Europe’s biggest teams culminated in the new format. This included the ill-fated European Super League attempt in 2021, which would have essentially made the Champions League a closed shop for some of Europe’s elite.
In contrast, UEFA’s new format can be seen as a win for football. Aleksander Ceferin, the UEFA president, described the new format as striking the right balance and improving the competitive landscape.
Changes to Europa League and Europa Conference League
The winds of change have not only swept through the Champions League. The Europa League and Europa Conference League will also undergo similar changes, with the traditional group stage replaced by a league phase. The Europa League will feature eight matches per team, while the Europa Conference League will feature six matches per team in the league stage.
The future of European football is here. The new Champions League format promises more excitement, more competition, and more opportunities for clubs across Europe. Whether it will live up to these promises remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the Champions League is about to enter a thrilling new era.