The UEFA Champions League is Europe’s premium club competition and is one of the most-watched tournaments in the world. European heavyweights such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Liverpool compete to be crowned ‘Champions of Europe’ and with 32 teams entering the group stage at the beginning of September, it is always suitably competitive and unpredictable.
The current format which features two-legged semi-final ties has been in place since 1955 and has thrown up some unforgettable contests including Liverpool’s comeback victory against Barcelona in 2019. However, UEFA are believed to be considering scrapping the two-legged ties in favour of ‘a week of football’ style knockout tournament, with all matches taking place in a single location.
Although the proposal is yet to be ratified, there is growing concern that this radical change would eliminate the possibility of pulsating semi-final second legs. UEFA are keen for the final stages of the tournament to resemble the Nations League which was introduced in 2018, however, many fans are yet to be completely sold on that format.
Viewing figures have dwindled in recent years, however, the tournament remains the most popular club competition in the world. Although there is plenty of interest throughout the group stage, the semi-final ties are hugely popular betting events and with the majority of online betting sites now offering live betting on every single contest, the topsy-turvy nature of the tournament has made it extremely popular with in-play punters. In contrast, the Nations League hasn’t necessarily captured the imagination of bettors with many football fans still struggling to acclimatise to the format.
Although upcoming Champions League finals are set to be staged in Paris, Munich and London, there is a concern that UEFA’s propensity to select a location in advance, could result in fans from England, Germany and Spain all being forced to buy expensive flights and tickets to a neutral destination. Supporters who wish to follow their team’s progress may have to spend up to seven days in a far-flung location, resulting in time off work and potentially expensive hotel stays. As a result, there is a concern that some matches may be largely attended by local residents as opposed to genuine fans.
UEFA have suggested that the ‘week of football’ idea will be similar to the Super Bowl with music and entertainment being added to the equation, whilst the Women’s Champions League final and the conclusion of the UEFA Youth Champions League may also take place in the same week.
The proposed changes would be unlikely to come into force until 2024, meaning that Champions League viewers have another couple of potentially thrilling semi-final second legs to look forward to. Although his side have rarely progressed to the final four of the tournament, PSG president and European Clubs Association chairman Nassar Al-Khelaifi is believed to be keen on the idea and has previously spoken about turning the tournament into more of a spectacle. However, traditionalists are unlikely to agree with the Qatari businessman and there is likely to be staunch opposition to the idea.
The Champions League has been dominated by Premier League clubs in recent years with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City having all featured heavily, and it remains to be seen whether this proposed format will be welcomed by English clubs and their fans.