Plans to radically reform the UEFA Champions League are set to be approved on Monday, when they will be at the top of the agenda at an executive committee meeting of European football’s governing body.
The plans — which are supposed to stave off the threat of a breakaway Super League — are already an open secret.
This is how things are set to change:
The changes are essentially all about creating a new format for the group stage, replacing the existing structure in place since 2003.
At the moment 32 clubs enter the group stage and are split into eight groups of four teams, who play each other home and away with the top two in each group advancing to the last 16.
It is understood the plans will see the number of teams in the group stage increase to 36. Discussions have been ongoing about who the additional berths will go to.
British newspaper The Times recently reported that two extra spots would go to the clubs with the best coefficient who fail to qualify via domestic competitions but have qualified for the second-tier Europa League.
However European Leagues, a body representing the interests of clubs and leagues in 30 countries, has said it is against places being attributed on historical merit and insists the make-up of European competitions “should reflect the current state of domestic competition”.
France, which is Europe’s fifth-ranked nation but currently only has two guaranteed places in the group stage, should get an extra spot.
Inspired by chess
The plans will see a complete overhaul of how the group stage works.
Teams will all be placed into one giant pool and will each play 10 games in a so-called ‘Swiss system’ more commonly associated with chess. It is also used in the European petanque championships.
For the draw, clubs will be split into four pots of nine based on UEFA coefficients.
Teams will play against 10 different sides, with five games at home and five away.
At the end of this phase, the top eight sides will go through to the last 16, with the bottom 12 eliminated.
Meanwhile the sides finishing between ninth and 24th position will play two-legged play-offs, with those between ninth and 16th drawn against a side finishing from 17th to 24th.
The winners of those ties will complete the last-16 line-up, with the losers dropping into the Europa League.
Crucially, more matches
At the heart of the reforms is the desire to play more games, stated explicitly by Andrea Agnelli earlier this year.
“It is our strong view that more European matches are welcome,” said Agnelli, who is the chairman of the powerful European Club Association as well as Juventus.
This system certainly offers that.
Each team will play 10 group games instead of six, meaning an overall explosion of the number of matches, with 180 in the group stage instead of the current 96.
The knockout stage remains untouched, but the addition of a play-off round at the end of the group phase means the total number of matches in the competition will sky-rocket from 125 to 225.
A team reaching the final will have to play at least 17 games compared to the current 13.