There is a reason that European football is one of the world’s most successful and popular sports. It never stands still. Since the inaugural competition, known as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, kicked off in 1955, UEFA has continuously evolved and adapted the UEFA Champions League to keep pace with wider changes in the game.
To ensure the new 2024/25 format will deliver the best for clubs, players and fans, UEFA based its design on extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the European football community. The final format, access list and calendar for European club competitions was approved on 10 May 2022, further to UEFA’s decision of 19 April 2021 to introduce a new competition system.
“UEFA has clearly shown that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the values and solidarity-based European sports model,” said UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin. “I am really pleased that it was a unanimous decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, with the European Club Association, European Leagues and national associations all agreeing with the proposal made. Another proof that European football is more united than ever.”
How will the Champions League format change from 2024/25?
The pivotal change in the reforms announced by the UEFA Executive Committee is the departure from the current format’s group stage system. The present Champions League group stage includes 32 participants divided into eight groups of four. From the 2024/25 season, 36 clubs will participate in the Champions League league phase (former group stage), giving four more sides the opportunity to compete against the best clubs in Europe. Those 36 clubs will participate in a single league competition in which all 36 competing clubs are ranked together.
Under the new format, teams will play eight matches in the new league phase (former group stage). They will no longer play three opponents twice – home and away – but will instead face fixtures against eight different teams, playing half of those matches at home and half of them away. To determine the eight different opponents, the teams will initially be ranked in four seeding pots. Each team will then be drawn to play two opponents from each of these pots, playing one match against a team from each pot at home, and one away.
This gives the opportunity for clubs to test themselves against a wider range of opponents and raises the prospect for fans of seeing the top teams go head to head more often and earlier in the competition. It will also result in more competitive matches for every club across the board.
How will the four extra Champions League group stage spots be allocated?
Qualification for the Champions League will continue to be open and depend on a club’s final position in the previous season’s domestic league competition combined with each association’s position in the association club coefficient ranking. The basis of the access list will remain the same as for the current season, and the additional four slots available in 2024/25 will be allocated as follows:
- Slot one: This place will go to the club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the access list, which is determined by the UEFA association club coefficient ranking.
- Slot two: This place will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the Champions path of the competition’s qualifying process, which will consist of four qualifying rounds.
- Slots three and four: These places will go to the associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season (i.e. the association club coefficient of the previous season, which is based on the total number of club coefficient points obtained by each club from an association divided by the number of participating clubs from that association). Those two associations will each earn one automatic place in the league phase (‘European Performance Spot’) for the club ranked next-best in their domestic league behind those clubs that have already qualified directly for the league phase.
How will teams reach the Champions League knockout phase and will the format for the knockout phase change?
The results of each match will decide the overall ranking in the new league, with three points for a win and one for a draw still applying.
The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the round of 16, while the teams finishing in 9th to 24th place will compete in a two-legged knock-out phase play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition. Teams that finish 25th or lower will be eliminated, with no access to the UEFA Europa League.
The new format, with all the teams ranked together in a single league, will mean that there is more to play for all the way through to the final night of the league phase.
In the knockout phase, the teams which finished between 9th and 16th will be seeded in the knockout phase play-off draw, meaning they will face a team placed 17th to 24th – with, in principle, the return leg at home. The eight clubs which prevail in the knockout phase play-offs will then progress to the round of 16, where they will each face one of the top-eight finishers, who will be seeded in the round of 16.
To strengthen the synergy between the league and knockout phases, and to provide more sporting incentive during the league phase, the pairings of the knockout phase will also be partly determined by the league phase rankings, with a draw which likewise determines and lays out the route for teams to reach the final.
From the round of 16 onwards, the competition will continue to follow its existing format of knockout rounds leading to the final staged at a neutral venue selected by UEFA.
All games before the final will continue to be played in midweek, recognising the importance of the domestic calendar of games across Europe, while the final will continue to be played on a Saturday.
Will the Europa League and Europa Conference League formats change from 2024/25 too?
Yes. Similar format changes will also be applied to the UEFA Europa League (eight matches and therefore eight different opponents in the league phase) and UEFA Europa Conference League, which will be called the UEFA Conference League as of 2024/25 (six matches and therefore six different opponents in the league phase), with both competitions also featuring 36 teams in the league phase.
How will the calendar look for the new format of the three competitions?
The Champions League and Europa League matches will be played between September and January, while the Europa Conference League matches will be played between September and December. Each of the three UEFA club competitions will have one exclusive matchweek, with the other two competitions not being scheduled in this week.
In standard weeks, Champions League matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while Europa League and Europa Conference League matches will be contested on Thursdays. In the Champions League exclusive week, Champions League matches will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. In the Europa League exclusive week, Europa League matches will be held on Wednesday and Thursday. In the Europa Conference League exclusive week, Europa Conference League matches will take place on Thursday.
For the last matchday of each of the competitions’ league phases, all games will be played simultaneously.
How will the new Champions League format benefit fans?
- The new league format will involve more European teams in each competition and will allow fans to not only see more top European matches but also to see those matches take place earlier in the competition.
- The new format will introduce a better competitive balance between all the teams, with the possibility for each team to play opponents of a similar competitive level throughout the league phase.
- Every game counts. The new league format will ensure that any result has the potential to dramatically change a team’s position, right up to and including the very last matchday. Winning or losing the last game of the league phase could make the difference between a side qualifying automatically for the last 16, entering the play-offs or being eliminated from the competition altogether.
How will the new Champions League format benefit the European game?
The changes made are designed to secure the positive future of European football at every level and meet the evolving needs of all its stakeholders. Unequivocally confirming joint commitment to the principle of open competition and sporting merit across the continent, the common purpose has also been to sustain domestic leagues. As outlined above, the new landscape of UEFA club competitions will allow more teams and therefore more coaches and players to compete in more competitive games on the European stage.
UEFA has also reaffirmed its strong financial commitment to the whole of European football and will initiate steps to ensure that solidarity is guaranteed to clubs which do not participate in UEFA club competitions. This will reinforce the solid foundation on which the game in Europe is built.
How has the Champions League changed down the years?
Our Champions League and Europa League timelines show in more detail how each competition has evolved, from the origins of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, which kicked off in 1955, to the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and more recently into the UEFA men’s club competition formats which exist today.