UEFA’s new Champions League: Thursday matches, a ‘seeding table’ and no Saudi teams

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UEFA will introduce an exclusive ‘Champions League match week’ next season as part of the revamped format that will see 36 teams compete in a league.

Mapping out details for the expanded competition in London on Tuesday, UEFA explained there would be matches played on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next season during one week in September. There will also be a blocked-out week for the Europa League and Europa Conference League.

Each team in the Champions League will play eight matches against eight different opponents — four at home and four away. They will face two teams each from Pot 1, Pot 2, Pot 3 and Pot 4 and it will be random as to who they are picked to play home/away.

At present, teams play six group matches — home and away against three opponents — to reach the round of 16.

The 36 teams in the new format will be divided into four pots of nine. Pot 1 will have the reigning Champions League winners and the eight teams with the best coefficients. This means clubs who win their domestic leagues and the Europa League champions are no longer prioritised for Pot 1. Pots 2 to 4 are ordered on club coefficient.

As a general rule, clubs from the same association will not be drawn against each other. However, to avoid deadlocking, the leagues with four or more clubs could play one match against another team from the same country.

Under the new structure, the Premier League could have as many as seven teams in the Champions League and 11 in Europe overall in any given year.

That is due to the extra coefficient spot awarded on performance — more on that shortly — with the winners of Europe’s biggest club competition and the Europa League (should those clubs not otherwise qualify automatically) also getting spots.



How the new Champions League format works

The top eight sides in the table will qualify automatically for the last-16 stage.

From there, UEFA said the teams would enter a ‘seeding table’ — similar to what is used in a tennis tournament. Teams who finish between 9th and 16th are seeded and will face a side placed 17th to 24th over two matches in a play-off to reach the last 16 — with the return leg at home.

This means, for example, the clubs who finish first and second at the end of the league phase will enter opposite ends of the draw. They could then only meet in the Champions League final with UEFA saying all clubs will now have a clearer and more obvious route there.

An idea to have a “U.S. draft” style pick for the knockout phase — where clubs would get to pick potential knockout opponents depending on their table finish — was even floated as a suggestion by UEFA but it was rejected.

UEFA believes a manual Champions League draw could take three to four hours under the new ‘Swiss model’ so a hybrid system, where the team would get picked out by hand and their draw then digitally assigned, will be used.

The format of the draw will also be changed (Kristian Skeie UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images).

With an extra four teams in the competition next year, UEFA confirmed two extra slots will go to the nations whose clubs achieve the best collective performance in the season before. For next season’s competition, Italy and Germany (fifth-placed spots occupied by Roma and RB Leipzig respectively) are leading the way, although England are knocking on the door in third place, which means there’s extra emphasis on the West Ham vs Freiburg Europa League match on Thursday.



Why Premier League clubs need PSV and West Ham to win in Europe this week

One of the other extra spots will go to the third-placed team in the league ranked fifth in the UEFA coefficient, determined by the five-year ranking up to the end of the 2022-2023 season (currently France), and the last will go the qualifying path for champions. Four teams used to come via this route into the league phase, but from next season it will be five.

The Europa League is also getting rid of the traditional group stage and replacing it with the league phase, with each team having to play eight matches. Clubs competing in the Conference League will play six matches in the league stage.

Both competitions will also now start with 36 teams.

For the last matchday of each of the competitions’ league phases, all games will be played at the same time.

UEFA also confirmed there are currently no plans to move the Champions League final outside Europe or allow non-European clubs into the competition. This came after Newcastle United co-owner Amanda Staveley said last week it was only a matter of time until a team from Saudi joined.



The great games, goals and performances from three decades of Champions League group matches

So what could this look like?

This is how the pots for next season’s competition would look based on the UEFA coefficient and league tables as of Tuesday, March 12:

For a visual representation of what the league phase of next season’s competition, we put each of the current Premier League title challengers into a random generator here at The Athletic.

The rules are that each team has to play two teams from each pot, four are played at home and four away and matches between teams from the same country are avoided where possible. Here are some of the fixtures that the generator produced:

Arsenal would face: Bayern Munich (away), Inter Milan (away), Barcelona (home), Shakhtar Donetsk (home), Young Boys (home), Partizan (away), Union Saint-Gilloise (away), Monaco (home).

Liverpool would face: PSG (home), RB Leipzig (away), Atletico Madrid (away), Benfica (away), RB Salzburg (home), Celtic (away), Bologna (home), Twente (home).

Manchester City would face: Real Madrid (away), Roma (home), Rangers (away), Juventus (home), Galatasaray (home), Lille (home), Anderlecht (away), Stuttgart (away).

(Top photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)

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