Bayern Munich, flawless in group stages in recent years in the UEFA Champions League, can carve an ‘easier’ path to the final by doing well in the group stages. But why is that?
The Champions League draw is about to start mirroring tennis! Let’s look at it stage by stage:
The number of teams in the group stage is set to expand from 32 to 36. Each team will play a total of eight games, four home and four away from home. From my understanding, the eight games will be against eight different opponents. The teams will then be organized into a league table. Teams ranked between first and eighth, inclusive, will qualify for the knockout stages.
Who will the four additional teams in the group stages?
- Two of the four places available will go to teams from the countries which performed the best in European competition (my understanding is that , for example, if clubs from Germany and Spain are the best performers over the course of a season, the following season, both countries would get an additional Champions League spot.
- Now the next spot would go to the team which finished third in the fifth best European league. Currently, that team has to come through the qualifiers.
- The next team would enter through the “Champions Path”, UEFA’s name for the qualifiers which include league champions who do not qualify directly for the group stages. (This is NOT THE SAME as the playoff rounds for league teams who are not Champions — remember Bayern came through qualifying against FC Zurich in 2011/12.) Normally, four teams join the group stage through this path; starting 2024/25, the number will increase to five.
What about the teams ranked below eighth? Teams ranked 25 and below are automatically eliminated from Europe altogether. That leaves the teams placed between nine and 24 inclusive. What happens to them?
KNOCKOUT PLAYOFF ROUND
Well, UEFA hasn’t decided yet. What we know for sure is the teams ranked from eighth to 16th will be seeded; the ones below will not. Each of the seeded teams will play a non seeded, meaning a team placed between 17th and 24th in the original table for a place in the last 16.
Each of these ties will be two-legged; the winner of each of these rounds will stay in the competition, leading to a total of 16 teams.
Let’s illustrate in a system in which best plays worst, second best plays second worst and so on; first, let’s create a ranking system of teams 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 Kiev
24. Arsenal (let me have this!)
The ties for the knockout playoff round would be as follows:
- Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal (winner seeded ninth)
- Tottenham Hotspur vs. Dynamo Kiev (winner seeded tenth)
- Juventus vs. Monaco (winner seeded eleventh)
- Sevilla vs. Galatasaray (winner seeded twelfth)
- Atletico Madrid vs. Lille (winner seeded thirteenth)
- Bayer Leverkusen vs. PSG (winner seeded fourteenth)
- Basel vs. Trabzonspor (winner seeded fifteenth)
- Marseille vs. Leipzig (winner seeded sixteenth)
I took one liberty here. For example, although Arsenal was ranked 24th, I stated that they would be ranked 16th if they would win the tie. However, UEFA hasn’t decided how to rank teams ranked 17th to 24th who win their ties at this stage.
KNOCKOUT PHASE — TENNIS TIME!
Now, we get to the real knockout phase. There will be NO MORE country protection. However, because of the manner in which the ties will work, top clubs might be unlikely to meet each other. The teams ranked 1 and 2 from the group stage will be placed in opposite halves of the draw so that they cannot meet each other till the final. Essentially, the 16 teams will be split into two draws, each with eight teams; for the sake of it, let’s call one half the upper half and the other the lower half.
Now what? Let’s do this part via an illustration
The original rankings for example:
1. Bayern Munich
2. AC Milan
3. Real Madrid
4. Inter Milan
6. Manchester City
8. Eintracht Frankfurt
Then the upper half would consist of the following ties:
1. Bayern Munich vs Leipzig (1 vs. 16)
2. Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Dortmund (8 vs. 9)
3. Inter Milan vs. Atletico (4 vs. 13)
4. Chelsea vs. Sevilla (5 vs. 12)
The lower half would be as follows:
1. AC Milan vs. Basel (2 vs. 15)
2. Liverpool vs. Spurs (7 vs. 10)
3. Real Madrid vs, PSG (3 vs. 14)
4. Manchester City vs. Juventus (6 vs. 11)
Let’s select winners from the upper half and the lower half!
Upper half: Bayern Munich, Frankfurt, Inter, Chelsea
Lower half: Milan, Spurs, Real Madrid, Man City
Upper half Matches:
- Bayern Munich vs Frankfurt (1 vs. 8)
- Inter vs, Chelsea (4 vs. 5)
Lower half Matches:
- Real Madrid vs. Man City (3 vs. 6)
- Milan vs. Spurs (2 vs. 10)
SEMIFINALS AND FINALS
- Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea (1 vs. 4) [I promise this was not intentional]
- Real Madrid vs. Spurs (3 vs, 10)
THOUGHTS ON EXTENDED 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, clearly means a lot. We also saw Frankfurt win a European trophy this season one tier above, in the Europa League; those scenes were also emotional. Although both the Europa League and Conference League are inferior competitions (I tend to enjoy the Europa League more than the Champions League nonetheless), they offer the teams who go far additional revenue.
Additional revenue means more money to buy players. Also, a deep run in a competition as well as a win can inspire further wins. Think of Frankfurt — they lost two semifinals in recent memory in the Europa League and won a Pokal before winning the Europa League. And now, Filip Kostic might stay because he has Champions League football to look forward to as well.
These so-called smaller competitions offer teams a chance to win and to somewhat level the playing field. I do not know if changing the format of the Champions League and giving additional teams a chance will produce a more competitive competition. The gap between the big and the small teams at that level is just too large. However, if more teams get to compete in Europe, I am in favor. I am curious about how this will play out.
For now, though, our Bayern Munich isn’t exactly playing superbly well; we have a summer of rumors to look forward to.
What are your thoughts on the revamping of the Champions League? Let us know your thoughts and, as always, thank you for reading!