Premier League set to earn fifth qualifying spot under new Champions League plan

Group matches also reduced to eight from original proposal of ten

In future years, Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final would help the Premier League potentially gain an extra place

In future years, Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final would help the Premier League potentially gain an extra place DOMENECH CASTELLO/EPA

The Premier League is set to have five Champions League places on a regular basis after Uefa announced it has scrapped its controversial plan to give places to the two clubs with the highest ranking.

Instead, from 2024, Uefa will award two spots to the countries whose clubs have performed best in European competition that season. Under this system England would have gained an extra place in four of the last five seasons – if applied this season it would have been England and the Netherlands, and last season England and Spain.

There is the extreme possibility that seven English teams could qualify in a single season in this new model — the top five plus the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League, if they finished sixth and seventh. A senior Uefa official described that scenario as being “as likely as a meteorite hitting this room”.

Premier League sources welcomed Uefa’s decision to scrap the rule which would have given clubs with the highest coefficient — based on their performance in Europe over the past five years — a back door into the Champions League if they failed to qualify via domestic competition.

There is also relief that Uefa has decided that the number of group matches from 2024 will go up from six to eight instead of the original plan of 10, reducing the number of fixtures considerably.

Some of the reforms will still concern English clubs however, including the plan to play Champions League fixtures in January. There are also fears among mid-sized and smaller clubs that the new format and earning potential will further reinforce the financial power of the ‘big six’ clubs.

Nevertheless, Uefa has scrapped its hugely unpopular idea for club coefficients to determine qualification in the tournament which would have rewarded those with a strong European track record over the past five years, such as Manchester United.

The likes of Leicester and West Ham might have lost out had Uefa stuck to its original plan of rewarding European track records over domestic league performance

The likes of Leicester and West Ham might have lost out had Uefa stuck to its original plan of rewarding European track records over domestic league performanceJUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Importantly it will mean the fifth-placed club in the Premier League would be rewarded whatever their Uefa ranking so last season Leicester City would have qualified, and West Ham United if they finished in fifth spot this season.

The formula will use Uefa’s country coefficient system to calculate the best performing countries, worked out by the total points achieved divided by the number of clubs in European competition. The new Europa Conference League also gives smaller clubs and countries more chances to build up ranking points — for example the Netherlands has benefited from Feyenoord reaching the final of that tournament this season.

The European Club Association (ECA) and European Leagues organisations also agreed to the changes at meetings in Vienna.

Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, said: “We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football across our continent while increasing the appeal and popularity of our club competitions.”

Uefa had initially proposed the coefficient idea but now accepted it smacked of a European Super League approach.

The new format of the Champions League will mean it expands from 32 to 36 teams under a new ‘Swiss model’ where there is a single league table and clubs will earn points from playing eight matches against opponents of different ranks to decide which go through to the knockout round. In another change, clubs from the same country will be able to play each other in all knockout rounds.

There will be 10 European match weeks to allow flexibility over when the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League are played.

Uefa said in a statement that “following an exhaustive consultation” with stakeholders “the key amendments relate to the reduction from 10 matches to eight in the league phase of the Uefa Champions League and the change of criteria for the allocation of two of the four additional places in the Champions League, removing access based on club coefficient. This confirms Uefa’s strong commitment to the principle of open competitions and sporting merit, while recognising the need to protect domestic leagues.”