UEFA set to approve contentious new Champions League format next week

The Champions League’s controversial new 36-team format from 2024 is set for final approval by UEFA's executive committee on Monday.

A controversial change is giving two of the four new places, worth tens of millions of euros (dollars), to clubs which did not qualify on merit but are ranked highly by UEFA on historical record. This season, such a proposal could have been a safety net for Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund.

A decision had initially been expected on March 31 but was delayed due to some clubs within the European Club Association seeking a greater say on commercial matters for the new competition.

However, meetings of the ECA board and of UEFA’s club competitions committee on Friday have cleared the way for the new format to be rubber-stamped. It is understood the differences which led to the first delay have been set aside rather than resolved.

The expanded format is a cause of concern for the Premier League and many other European domestic competitions, while fans’ groups wrote an open letter to ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli criticising it on Friday morning.

Monday’s expected decision on formats comes more than two years after a first ECA-backed proposal favoring storied clubs was dropped amid strong opposition from the 30-nation European League group and many mid-ranking clubs.

The new Champions League format

  • The eventual Champions League winner will have to play 17 games in all in the new Swiss-style format.
  • The new format will see teams play 10 different opponents in a schedule weighted by seeding, instead of just three opponents in a traditional round-robin group.
  • The new system will be beneficial for the less fashionable teams competing in the Champions League and will apparently help them to fight for the trophy.
  • Instead of being divided into groups of four, clubs will ranked in a table from 1-36, moving up and down over the 10 matchdays as they do in their domestic league tables.
  • The highest-ranked teams will meet two other teams of their level, three from the next level down, another three from the second-to-lowest pot, and then two from the lowest pot.
  • Once each team have played their 10 initial matches, the eight highest-ranked teams will move into the Round of 16. Those from ninth to 16th will face a playoff against those positioned between 17th and 24th for the remaining Round of 16 places.

The new formats proposal sees the second-tier Europa League expanded to eight rounds in the 32-team single standings — a variation of the Swiss model used in chess tournaments.

The third-tier Europa Conference League, which launches next season, should have six rounds also in the 32-team standings feeding into playoffs and a last-16 knockout bracket.

UEFA said Friday its executive committee also plans to decide on a distribution model for allocating prize money in all three competitions for the three seasons from 2021 through 2024.

European football’s governing body will also make a final decision on host venues for Euro 2020, with Bilbao, Dublin and Munich the three cities yet to be confirmed of the original 12.

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