Champions League is far from perfect but what is coming next looks worse

Logo The GuardianThe Guardian
2023-09-18 21:00:38  • 5 mins

Ce sont les meilleures quipes This week, a familiar choral refrain returns to stadiums, bars and living rooms across Europe and beyond. The opening Champions League match day offers plenty of intriguing games and historic names Milan v Newcastle, Feyenoord v Celtic, Bayern v Manchester United. Ideologies collide as Real Madrid host Union Berlin; eras entwine as Manchester City face Red Star Belgrade. Its a feast of football to be savoured not least because the group stage is about to change dramatically

The new format

From next season, the group stage will feature 36 teams placed in one giant league table. Every team will play eight matches (two more than the current group stage but two less than the original plans which wanted 10), four home and four away but all against different opponents. After this peculiar quarter-campaign, the top eight teams go straight to the last 16. Teams placed between ninth and 24th in the table, meanwhile, move on to a playoff round.

Chances are that, unless youre a Uefa delegate or a chess enthusiast familiar with the Swiss model, that paragraph will have taken a couple of reads. The new format, cooked up by Uefa after the European Super Leagues failed land-grab in 2021, felt like a wacky scheme that would eventually be reined in by common sense.

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