The UEFA Champions League has undergone several changes through the decades but 2024 will bring in the most significant alteration for 20 years.
Following the initial creation of the European Cup in 1955, the format of the competition remained relatively stable for over 30 years as the champions of domestic leagues gained entry to the tournament and matches were played on a home-and-away basis up until the final.
But a combination of the break-ups of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and the desire for more big clubs to be involved in the elite European soccer competition, led to several changes during the 1990s.
Strength in depth in Champions League
In the years before the Champions League was expanded, few teams would have been priced as realistic winners in the betting, but the inclusion of more clubs from the leading countries has created a more open playing field. An indication of this is that since the competition rebranded in 1992, only one team has successfully defended the title. Such obvious depth is a demonstration of why holders Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League odds of +200 are short in comparison to the likes of Barcelona and Paris St Germain, who are +1000 and +1200, respectively. (28/09). That price at such an early stage of the competition may seem even less appealing in 12 months’ time, when Champions League participants will have to play more games.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) June 12, 2023
At the moment, a team starting the tournament in the group phase must play 13 matches to be crowned European champions. It has been this way since the 2003-04 season when a second group stage was scrapped in favor of bringing in a round of 16.
But next season, the group phase is being replaced by a single-league format based on what is called the ‘Swiss system’, which will see 36 teams take part, rather than 32. In addition, rather than play six games during the group stage, a team will now need to play eight matches, all against different opponents, with four fixtures at home and four away.
Following those games, the top eight teams will automatically go through to the round of 16, but the teams who finish between ninth and 24th place will then have to tackle a play-off in order to advance to the knockout round proper.
83 teams to participate in 2024
It means that there is a realistic chance that the 2025 Champions League winners will have played 17 matches to be able to lift the trophy in the Allianz Arena in Munich.
UEFA is also making these format changes in the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Conference League. Both of those competitions will also have 36 teams in the league phase, although teams in the Conference League will only play six league matches.
It is a far cry from when a group phase was first introduced in the 1991-92 season, the year before the European Cup changed its name to the Champions League. There were only 32 teams participating in the competition at that point when it was restricted to champions.
In 2024, it is expected that 83 teams will participate in the Champions League when the challenge to be crowned champions of Europe will become even harder.