New Champions League qualification rules 2024: UEFA unveil expansion changes to coefficient formula and group stage
New Champions League qualification rules 2024: UEFA unveil expansion changes to coefficient formula and group stage
New Champions League qualification rules unveiled for 2024

UEFA have unveiled sweeping changes to both qualification for the Champions League and the format of the group stage.

European football's governing body announced amendments that will come into force for the 2024-25 competition, opening new avenues for teams to enter the tournament and restructuring the main event itself.

The changes came about from discussions with clubs that wished to guarantee Champions League qualification via their status as European giants even if they miss out on qualifying for the competition directly. The talks took place in the wake of the failed Super League initiative. 

"UEFA has clearly shown today that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the European sports model," said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin in the organisation's official release.

MORE: Who has qualified for the 2022-23 Champions League?

UEFA Champions League expands from 32 to 36 teams

In May of 2021, UEFA announced a plan to expand the group stage of the competition from 32 to 36 teams.

Instead, starting in the 2024-25 competition, the Champions League will scrap the group phase and change to a 36-team "league phase." This would see all 36 teams organised in one league table.

According to the May 2021 release that first announced the changes to the competition, each team would be allocated five home games and five away games against other teams across the league phase. The top eight teams in the table after the 10 league matches would qualify for the knockout round. Teams finishing 9-24 would enter a playoff round, with teams 9-16 seeded against teams finishing 17-24. The eight winners of those playoff match-ups would earn a place in the knockout stage.

In the new release this year, that format has been altered slightly. Instead of 10 league matches, Champions League participants would instead play eight matches, four home and four away.

It is not clear yet how those matches will be allocated, although it seems likely that a seeded draw from various pots — as is the current custom for allocating groups — would be a likely choice. In that hypothetical scenario, a team would draw two teams from the four pots, one home and one away, to play across the eight league matches.

⚽ The #UEFAExCo has approved the final format and access list for UEFA club competitions from the 2024/25 season.

✅ No more access granted based on club coefficients.

✅ Eight matches instead of ten in the new league phase.

Full details: ⬇️#UCL #UEL #UECL

— UEFA (@UEFA) May 10, 2022

Changes to UEFA Champions League qualification rules

In the latest release, UEFA confirmed some changes to the Champions League qualification rules, due to the opening of four more places in the competition. While the original 32 spots will continue to be allocated as they are currently using UEFA coefficient, the four additional places will be granted via a different method.

The new method and format has been referred to colloquially as the "Swiss Model".

First additional slot

The first additonal slot — as was announced in last year's release, and does not change — will be granted to the club finishing third in the fifth-ranked league by UEFA coefficient.

Currently, this club qualifies for the Champions League already, but enters into the third qualifying round. Instead, this team would be bumped up to the league stage, meaning the top five — not the top four, as is the case currently — leagues in Europe would gain an additional league stage spot.

Typically, the nation that will most benefit from this in the short term would be France.

Second additional slot

The second slot — also as per the May 2021 announcement and does not change — will be awarded to an additional club from the "Champions Path".

The Champions Path is one of two routes clubs can take through the playoff rounds. Currently, the Champions Path results in four teams advancing from the playoff stage to the group stage. In the 2024-25 competition, the Champions Path will be reconfigured to produce five winners.

Third and fourth additional slots

The third and fourth slots are the two that UEFA changed from its initial release last May.

Initially, these two places were to be awarded to the two clubs with the highest individual club coefficients that have not qualified for the group stage automatically, but have qualified for the Champions League qualification phase or another European competition (Europa League, Europa Conference League).

This would have most likely benefitted clubs from countries like Ukraine, Scotland, Portugal, or other leagues that have some group stage qualification spots but other spots that deposit teams into the earlier qualifying rounds. For example, clubs like Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk, Rangers, RB Salzburg, or Monaco, who played in the playoff rounds of this year's competition, could have been bumped up to the group stage based on club coefficient.

This method has been scrapped by the new release, as UEFA hopes to compromise with the more powerful leagues and clubs that wished to benefit from the new expansion format. According to the new rules, these two additional slots will now be allocated to leagues that boast the best overall performances by its clubs in all European competitions, ranked by total coefficient points divided by the number of participating clubs.

This year, those two leagues would be England and the Netherlands, according to the UEFA release. English clubs were by far the most successful across the three European competitions, with one reaching the Champions League final, another eliminated in the semifinals, another eliminated in the quarterfinals, another reaching the semifinals of the Europa League, and another reaching the semifinals of the Europa Conference League.

The Eredivisie, meanwhile, saw a club reach the Champions League Round of 16 (Ajax), a club reach the Europa Conference League quarterfinals (PSV) and a club reach the Europa Conference League final (Feyenoord).

Under the new rules, each league would receive an extra Champions League slot, determined by league finishing position, in addition to the ones already allocated. Therefore, if this year were proceeding under the new rules, fifth place in the Premier League would hypothetically earn an additional place, while third place in the Eredivisie would also make the cut.

Increase in revenue distribution

With the announcement, UEFA also stated it would increase revenue-sharing payments to €935 million ($983 million), an increase of 21 percent from the previous four-year cycle.

Each national association can receive up to €17 million over the four-year period, which is distributed to clubs across the leagues.

UEFA state the money is earmarked for "implementing education and development programmes such as grassroots initiatives for girls and boys, social responsibility programmes, refereeing and coaching education, as well as financing football infrastructure – helping to build pitches, stadiums, training centres and headquarter offices."

It's not clear if UEFA will also decide to increase prize money for participating clubs in European competitions for the coming four-year cycle.

MORE: Breaking down Champions League prize money

What was said about the Champions League changes?

"Today's decisions conclude an extensive consultation process during which we listened to the ideas of fans, players, coaches, national associations, clubs and leagues -- to find the best solution for the development and success of European football," said UEFA president Ceferin in the official release.

"We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football.

“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.

“Qualification will thus remain purely based on sporting performance and the dream to participate will remain for all clubs.”

A day after the new format and qualification procedures were released, on Wednesday, UEFA vice president Margaritis Schinas gave a speech praising the process, negotiations, and final decision.

"European football must remain open, based on sporting merit and serve the interests of all of society," Schinas said, calling the new format "one of the leading success stories" of European football's growth.

"As national associations we know that you are there to prioritise solidarity and sustainability. Football is about much more than profit and entertainment and, as [Europe's] governing body, you play a vital role to ensure that the commercial success of the elite level is there also to support all other levels – less profitable competitions, amateur sport and development projects."

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