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36 teams, a mini-championship and a third qualifying place for France

If the reform of the Champions League, adopted on Tuesday May 10 by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), takes effect from next season, AS Monaco – if indeed the current third in Ligue 1 retains his place on the podium – would be guaranteed to participate. Meeting in the executive committee in Vienna, the body presiding over continental football validated a revisited format for its queen competition.

In addition to a directly qualifying third place for the fifth European nation (France to date), this reform of a first version adopted last year confirms the transition to a mini-championship as a group phase, and allocates the last places in the running on sporting criteria.

A new format: the end of the group stages

Now 36 (against 32 previously), the teams competing in the Champions League will no longer be divided into groups of four. In the new formula, the first phase of the competition becomes a kind of championship integrating all the teams. And each club will face eight different teams (four at home, four away) and will therefore play two more matches than with the current format (compared to four more during the reform adopted in April 2021).

Controversial, because adding matches to a saturated calendar, this new format aims to satisfy both broadcasters (with 225 matches in total against 125 today), clubs, assured of higher ticketing income – including in the event early elimination -, and viewers in search of prestigious posters.

The eight best teams of this first phase will be directly qualified for the final phases, and the clubs classified between the 9e and the 24e place will face each other – in home and away matches – in play-offs evoking the “play-in” established in the NBA, to complete the final table.

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The last two places awarded on sporting criteria

Main change in the ripolinage of the facade operated by UEFA on Tuesday, the question of the two places remaining to be allocated is changing. Last year, when the Super League threatened to split European football, the European body tried to reassure the big clubs tempted by the adventure, by reserving the last two tickets to “historic” clubs which would not be managed to qualify for the championship. But the wheel has turned, and UEFA has reversed this measure: now, the last two places will be awarded to the championships whose teams have shone the most in Europe the previous season. Thus, this year, England and the Netherlands would be rewarded for the results of their clubs in continental competitions.

In this, UEFA has heard the call from supporters and many observers that the sesames for its competition will only be won on the pitch. Like an echo of “Earn it” (“deserve it”) displayed on the training t-shirts of Leeds players, before facing Chelsea the day after the attempt to secede from the Super League.

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“UEFA has made it clear today that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values ​​of sport and upholding the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit,” insisted Aleksander Ceferin, the Slovenian president of UEFA, in a press release.

Deployed from the 2024-2025 season, the reform of the Champions League will be accompanied by a reform of the Europa League and the Europa League Conference, modeled on this “mini-championship” model. And, if this new formula will not lighten the – saturated – calendar of European clubs, UEFA noted on Tuesday that, with the exception of the final, all matches will continue to be played in the middle of the week, a confirmation awaited by national leagues which usually play on weekends.


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