Bayern Munich, faultless in the group stage in recent years in the UEFA Champions League, can make their way to the final “easier” by doing well in the group stage. But why is this?
The Champions League draw is about to begin like tennis! Let’s see it step by step:
The number of teams in the group stage is expected to increase from 32 to 36. Each team will play a total of eight games, four at home and four away. From what I understand, the eight matches will be against eight different opponents. The teams will then be organized into a league table. Teams ranked between first and eighth place inclusive will qualify for the Round of 16.
Who will be the four additional teams in the group stage?
- Two of the four places available will go to teams from the top performing countries in European competition (I understand that, for example, if clubs from Germany and Spain are the top performers in one season, the following season both countries would secure an additional Champions League spot.
- Now, the next spot would go to the side that finished third in Europe’s fifth-best league. Currently, this team must pass the qualifications.
- The next team would enter through the “Path of Champions”, UEFA’s name for the playoffs which includes league champions who do not qualify directly for the group stages. (This is NOT the same as the knockout rounds for non-champion league teams – remember Bayern qualified against FC Zurich in 2011/12.) Normally four teams join the group stage by this route; from 2024/25, this number will increase to five.
What about the teams ranked below eighth place? Teams ranked 25 and below are automatically eliminated from Europe. That leaves teams placed between nine and 24 inclusive. What happens to them?
KOCKOUT PLAYOFF ROUND
Well, UEFA haven’t decided yet. What we do know for sure is that teams ranked 8th through 16th will be seeded; those below will not. Each of the seeded teams will face a non-seeded team, that is to say a team placed between 17th and 24th place in the initial table for a place in the last 16.
Each of these ties will be two-legged; the winner of each of these rounds will remain in the competition, making a total of 16 teams.
Let us illustrate in a system in which the best plays the worst, the second best plays the second worst and so on; First, let’s create a team ranking system from ninth to 24th:
9. Borussia Dortmund
10. Tottenham Hotspur
13. Atletico Madrid
15. FC Basel
17. RB Leipzig
19. Bayer Leverkusen
22. AS Monaco
23. Dynamo Kyiv
24. Arsenal (let me have that!)
Ties for the knockout playoff round would be as follows:
- Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal (winner, ninth seed)
- Tottenham Hotspur v Dynamo Kyiv (winner ranked tenth)
- Juventus vs Monaco (eleventh seeded winner)
- Sevilla v Galatasaray (twelfth seeded winner)
- Atletico Madrid vs Lille (thirteenth seeded winner)
- Bayer Leverkusen vs PSG (fourteenth seeded winner)
- Basel v Trabzonspor (fifteenth seeded winner)
- Marseille vs Leipzig (sixteenth seeded winner)
I took a liberty here. For example, even though Arsenal were ranked 24th, I said they would be ranked 16th if they won the tie. However, UEFA have not decided how to classify the 17th-24th ranked teams that win their matches at this stage.
KNOCKOUT STAGE – TENNIS TIME!
Now we come to the real knockout stage. There will be NO country protection. However, due to the way the ties will work, top clubs are unlikely to meet. Teams ranked 1 and 2 from the group stage will be placed in opposite halves of the draw so they cannot meet before the final. Essentially, the 16 teams will be split into two draws, each with eight teams; for fun, let’s call one half the top half and the other the bottom half.
Now what? Let’s do this part via an illustration
The original classifications for example:
2. AC Milan
3. Real Madrid
4. Inter Milan
8. Eintracht Frankfurt
Then the top half would consist of the following links:
1. Bayern Munich v Leipzig (1 v 16)
2. Eintracht Frankfurt v Dortmund (8 v 9)
3. Inter Milan against Atlético (4 against 13)
4. Chelsea v Sevilla (5 v 12)
The bottom half would look like this:
1. AC Milan vs Basel (2 vs 15)
2. Liverpool v Spurs (7 v 10)
3. Real Madrid v PSG (3 v 14)
4. Manchester City v Juventus (6 v 11)
IT’S TIME FOR THE QUARTER-FINALS!
Let’s pick the winners from the top half and the bottom half!
Upper half: Bayern Munich, Frankfurt, Inter, Chelsea
Bottom half: Milan, Spurs, Real Madrid, Man City
Top half matches:
- Bayern Munich vs Frankfurt (1 vs 8)
- Inter v Chelsea (4 v 5)
Bottom Half Matches:
- Real Madrid v Man City (3 v 6)
- Milan v Spurs (2 v 10)
SEMI-FINALS AND FINALS
- Bayern Munich v Chelsea (1 v 4) [I promise this was not intentional]
- Real Madrid v Spurs (3 v, 10)
REFLECTIONS ON ENLARGED EUROPEAN COMPETITION
I watched the UEFA Europa Conference League final between Roma and Feyenoord. You bet I was in tears after the final whistle, watching the Roma players. A European trophy, at all levels, is obviously a lot. We’ve also seen Frankfurt win a European trophy this season one tier above, in the Europa League; these scenes were also moving. Although the Europa League and Conference League are inferior competitions (I still tend to like the Europa League more than the Champions League), they provide teams that go far with additional revenue.
Additional income means more money to buy players. Additionally, a deep run in a competition as well as a victory can inspire further victories. Think Frankfurt – they have lost two semi-finals in recent memory in the Europa League and won a Pokal before winning the Europa League. And now Filip Kostic could stay because he also has Champions League football to look forward to.
These so called small competitions give teams a chance to win and level the playing field somewhat. I don’t know if changing the Champions League format and giving additional teams a chance will produce a more competitive competition . The gap between big and small teams at this level is just too big. However, if more teams can compete in Europe, I am for it. I’m curious how this will turn out.
At the moment, however, our Bayern Munich are not really playing very well; we have a summer of rumors to look forward to.
Sources: ESPN, BBC and UEFA
What do you think of the Champions League revamp? Let us know your thoughts and, as always, thanks for reading!