Final group stage format begins tonight

Manchester City begin their Champions League defense on Tuesday when the group stage begins in the final season in its current format, as Europe’s elite club competition prepares for a radical change.

Unveiled by UEFA in 2021 at the end of the crisis which saw a group of 12 clubs announce a breakaway Super League before immediately abandoning the project, the new Champions League will begin next year.

This will see the number of golf outfits involved in the current competition increase from 32 to 36, with all participants grouped into a single league in which teams will play eight matches – up from six currently – in what is known as the “Swiss system”.

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This is therefore the last campaign, after twenty years, in which the Champions League will begin with a group stage comprising eight sections of four groups, the first two of each qualifying for the last 16.

“We are convinced that the chosen format provides the right balance and will improve competitive balance,” said Aleksander Ceferin, president of European football’s governing body, when the changes to the Champions League were confirmed in May last year. .

The disappearing format was introduced for the 2003/04 season, capping an experiment with a second group stage.

In terms of symmetry and ease, it couldn’t be better, with half of the groups progressing from the group stage to the round of 16.

But it is a period in which major membership and international competitions continue to increase. Additionally, it was recognized that the Champions League group stage had become somewhat stale.

A rising gulf

The financial gap between the continent’s most powerful clubs and the others is steadily widening, accentuated in particular by the decision to award part of the cash prizes based on the teams’ place in the personal ranking of UEFA members. .

This means that the top-ranked group will receive more than €36 million ($38.4 million) just for being the highest-ranked team, with the amount gradually decreasing so that the lowest-ranked group only receives a little over a million euros.

Even at this elite level, many teams do little more than catch up, while being rewarded handsomely.

It’s hard to imagine Swiss side Young Boys or Serbia’s Crimson Star Belgrade making a huge impact alongside Pep Guardiola’s Metropolis and RB Leipzig in Group G.

Metropolis are expected to advance to the round of 16, racking up goals along the way, and they start as favorites to retain a trophy they won in June by beating Inter Milan 1-0 in the final in Istanbul.

This success allowed Metropolis to finally win the competition it had been pursuing since the takeover led by Abu Dhabi in 2008 which reshaped the club.

“This challenge requires more, more ambition,” said Spanish midfielder Rodri after scoring the winner for Metropolis in last season’s final.

So who can stop them?

It certainly won’t be the champions of Switzerland or Serbia, nor a Leipzig team that lost its star defender, Josko Gvardiol, to Metropolis during the season stoppage.

14-time winners Real Madrid are still in contention for the Champions League, although Carlo Ancelotti’s side find themselves in a tough group alongside Napoli, Braga and newcomers Union Berlin.

Bayern Munich strengthened in attack with the signing of Harry Kane, while Paris Saint-Germain lost Neymar and Lionel Messi but saved Kylian Mbappe and strengthened around him.

Each of their seasons will be marked, as always, by their performances in the Champions League.

Arsenal will be hoping to make an impression when they return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016/17, while Saudi possession has propelled Newcastle United back into the competition after a twenty-year absence.

Nevertheless, they find themselves in pieces with PSG, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund.

UEFA might have been less inclined to change the Champions League format if its competitors fielded teams like this more often.

“It’s tough and difficult, but I think there are some good European games to be had and some good places for our supporters to go,” Newcastle manager Eddie Howe said after the draw.

His group begins on Tuesday against Milan, the seven-time European champion.

UEFA Champions League, matchday one (September 19)

AC Milan vs Newcastle United

Young boys vs RB Leipzig

UEFA Champions League matches (September 20)

Feyenoord vs Celtic

Lazio vs Atlético Madrid

PSG vs. Borussia Dortmund

Manchester City vs Crimson Star Belgrade

Barcelona vs Antwerp

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Porto

Galatasaray vs Copenhagen

Real Madrid vs. Union Berlin

UEFA Champions League matches (September 21)

Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United

Sevilla vs Lens

Arsenal vs PSV

Braga vs Napoli

Actual Sociedad vs. Inter Milan

Benfica vs Salzburg

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