How will new Champions League format affect Real Madrid?

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Champions League reform is upon us. When the 2024-25 season begins the competition will enter into a new broadcasting contract with a raft of different commercial agreements. And, when it does it is proposed to be under a new format with many more games – the Swiss Model, as it is been referred to. But how will it work? What will the Champions League actually look like and why is this happening? Here’s all you need to know about the new Champions League format and how it affects Real Madrid.

More Games

First, the most dramatic change: the 32-team group stage will be abolished and replaced by a single 36-team league. Each participating club will play ten games – five at home and five away – with those fixtures determined by a seeding system that will rank clubs based on historic performances.

After those initial ten games have been completed, the teams finishing in the top eight of the league will advance automatically to the next round. The next 16 sides, however, would then enter a playoff, from which eight winners will emerge to create a 16-team knock-out stage.

The first consequence for the clubs thus is evident, they would need to play more games. We have seen Los Blancos struggle this season with injuries. Zinedine Zidane has been forced to utilizing the very depth of their bench strength including the Castilla prodigies. As such an increase in the number of games in the Champions League would mean a need for Real Madrid to make new signings, keep players fit to play the extra matches and work considerably on their depth.

Commercial Standpoint

Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli is the Chairman of the European Club Association and he has described the changes as his ‘ideal Champions League’ and believes it will provide great opportunities for those participating in that competition. As well he might. In essence, the Swiss model is a clever way to stage a competition with a large number of participants without sending half of them home after the first round.

Previously, under the old system, 16 of the 32 clubs were eliminated after just six games. Under its proposed replacement, each participant would be guaranteed four more games. And, it will also mean that Europe’s elite clubs get to play with each other more often. And, from a commercial standpoint, the greater regularity of those top-tier clashes has an obvious attraction. More games will mean more ticket sales, a bigger television audience for each club’s sponsors, and, most likely, more opportunity to earn prize money.

This, however, could be a blessing in disguise for Los Blancos. After the proposed Super League was met with dissent, the club is desperately in need of an alternate economic model. The prospects in the new Champions League format seem hopeful.

Extra Spots?

But, another attraction is the lack of jeopardy and the diminished risk created by a new qualifying facility. The number of participants will rise from 32 to 36. But instead of filling those four new slots with deserving teams from the next best domestic leagues on UEFA’s ‘country coefficients’ list, the current plan is to award an extra qualifying slot to Ligue 1, putting them on an equal footing with England, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The second spot would be reserved for a team that had performed well in a recent Champions League, but who would ordinarily be asked to progress through the qualifying rounds. With the Eredivisie currently offering no guaranteed route to the Champions League group stage, this is a situation that has befallen Ajax in the past. Despite reaching the semi-finals in 2019, for instance, they still had to pass through two qualifying rounds to reach the next season’s group stage proper. Under this new system, they would have been an obvious candidate and likely recipient of that automatic spot.

But, the two remaining spots would be more controversial as they’re intended to provide safety nets for under-performing clubs. They would be reserved for the teams with the best club coefficient, a ranking based on performances in Europe over the previous five seasons, that had failed to qualify from the previous season’s domestic campaign but who still finished with the other European places. (5th – 7th) Think Manchester United two seasons ago, for instance, or Tottenham Hotspurs more recently.

Theoretically, that means the Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Seria A, or LaLiga could have up to six participants in the Champions League if two seasoned Euro campaigners finished between fifth and seventh. But that will come with a caveat, though. All of those leagues are limited to having seven European slots for a season. Typically, that would be four teams in the Champions League, two in the Europa League, and one in the soon to arrive Europa Conference League.

However, if a team was to require one of those lucky losers’ spots, then the domestic league in question wouldn’t be able to send a full quota to the second or third-tier competitions. Even so, there will still be third-placed teams from Russia or the Netherlands, or a runner-up in Switzerland or Greece, wondering why they haven’t made Europe’s top competition while a seventh-placed team in England or Italy potentially has.

The European leagues collectively will also worry that the Swiss model competitions are inherently scalable. What is to stop the European Club Association, asking for 18 games in 2027 or 34 in 2030? And, with football’s calendar already full to bursting, where would the space to accommodate that expansion come from?

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Though, there is nothing much that Real Madrid can do about the proposed changes or that affects their chances of qualification for the competition. If anything, the inclusion of parameters like historic performances and club coefficient strengthens Real’s chances of participation in the competition. They would however be expected to maintain their automatic qualification, bagging a top-four spot in LaLiga as they always have.