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What Is The New Champions League Format?

After almost 70 years of the Group stage format, the Champions League has been gearing up for a radical format change for the past year or so.

Amidst fears of the competition growing stale, the group stage has been replaced by a 36-team league, in which teams will play 8 matches that are drawn individually much like a group stage, and will also be drawn against teams from 4 different pots like before.

The difference is, that now a result like Sheriff Tiraspol beating Real Madrid will have much more serious implications for Madrid’s Champions League campaign, than a one-off loss that still sees them top the group.

As all sides will play two teams from each pot, the likes of Real Madrid and Man City could face off in the first phase.

This means a team will only steamroll the League if they are truly elite, and there would be nothing to stop another side from doing the same, as there is no guarantee both would play each other.

So if a big pot 1 side loses their pot 4 game, then it would have serious implications for a team’s chances. It would make the matches against pot 1 and 2 teams as must-wins, with even the top teams only a few big slip-ups from crashing down the table.

It’s certainly a shake-up, and will no doubt lead to some interesting Champions League betting odds, while also ensuring that every game/round played matters. 

There’s a promise of much higher stakes matches, and in many ways is a more sustainable, inclusive version of the proposed ‘European Super League’.

It will, however, only serve as a means to decide the 24 teams that will qualify for the next round, after the League Stage, the normal knockout stage occurs.

The top 8 will go directly into the round of 16, while the other 16 sides that sit 9th-24th will go into a playoff round, against one another.

One massive change this system brings is that there is no drop-down to the Europa League.

If you are eliminated then your continental season is over. There will be more European football for your club that season.

Why Is It Changing?

I think it’s a great move to allow smaller clubs outside the elite to taste European success, harkening back to an earlier time when much smaller sides would regularly challenge in Europe’s second continental competition.

The past few years have seen the Europa League bloated by Champions League failures, as the clubs that actually want to be there are tossed aside by clubs with far more resources, desperate to make up for a Champions League collapse.

Dubbed ‘The Swiss’ model, the format takes inspiration from esports, where competitions have seldom seen a final round lacking in importance.

UEFA are hoping this system will prevent boring final rounds, where many group stages have already been decided.

There has been plenty of criticism of the change, many pointing to this year’s Group F as an example of how frenetic and high-octane Group Stages can be.

However,  this is pretty blatant cherrypicking… As dramatic as Group F when every other Group this year either had a clear winner or had both 1st and second spots already guaranteed to one of the sides in the top two going into the final round of fixtures.

The reality of the current format is clear for all to say outside the one entertaining group. Sadly there can’t only be groups of death.

By switching to a ‘League Stage’ every round will have ample drama and importance, with the majority of sides desperate to win and secure playoff or top 8 qualification on the final day.

It tries to solve smaller sides being given absolutely no chance by being drawn into an impossible group as point fodder. Now even in the worst-case scenario, a Pot 4 side will still have 23 other Pot 4 sides to play. 

If they just win those two games and maybe grab a point or two against the Pot 3 sides, then it could be enough to sneak into the playoff spot, and from there anything is possible.

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