The UEFA Champions League format is set to look very different in just over one year’s time when the competition is significantly restructured.
The biggest changes will see the number of teams expanded from 32 to 36 while the traditional ‘group stage’ format will be overhauled. The question in Scotland is what that will mean for the two clubs who qualify each season and if it could improve their chances of going further in the competition.
With Celtic and Rangers all but guaranteed to secure the two Scottish Premiership qualifying spots this season, they could be among the 32 clubs who feature in the competition in its current format for the last time. Here is how things will look when the Champions League changes are implemented and what it will mean for Celtic and Rangers if the qualify for the 2024/25 competition:
What are the Champions League changes?
The biggest change is that the competition is being expanded from 32 clubs to 36 and instead of the teams being divided into eight groups of four they will compete in one combined league table with clubs playing eight matches over ten game weeks against different opponents with four matches at home and four away from home. The previous format saw clubs play six matches in the group stage, facing three other clubs home and away to reach the last 16.
The club who accumulate the most points from the eight matches and finish in the top eight places of the league table will qualify automatically for the last 16 knockout stage, with the format of the competition from then on remaining unchanged. The team who finish ninth to 24th will enter a knockout round prior to the last 16 where they will play one team home and away to reach the Last 16 stage.
In terms of qualification, UEFA have confirmed that two of the four extra places will be awarded on the performance of a country’s clubs in Europe over the previous season. For example, that would mean the two extra places being awarded to the English Premier League and Dutch Eredivisie if the changes were implemented for next season.
What do the changes mean for Celtic and Rangers?
While qualifying for the main stage of the competition remains the same, it’s unclear if the new system will make things easier, harder or much the same in terms of the two Glasgow clubs chances of reaching the last 16. In this season’s competition neither club’s performance would have been sufficient to see them finish between ninth and 24th and clearly not in the top eight clubs so both would have been eliminated after the first phase proper.
With eight matches to be played a huge advantage could be gained from strong performances at home where picking up wins will give them a strong footing and a favourable draw could provide the chance for away points as well. It is unlikely either club would find themselves finishing in the top eight in the coming years given the level of opposition but a place from ninth to 24th is certainly achievable and that would give them a two legged head-to-head tie for a spot in the last 16.