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Champions League 2018-19 explained: How UEFA's changes impact qualification spots

From the summer of 2018 on the Champions League will have somewhat of a different feel to it thanks to the changes being introduced by UEFA.

Slight alterations to format, particularly the qualification process, will have an impact on teams from certain countries, while fans will have to get used to some schedule tweaks.

There will be a knock-on effect on the Europa League, with changes also being implemented in the second-tier tournament.

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They can seem complicated so if you are in the dark about what these changes are and how they will affect your team, fear not! Goal breaks it down.

Champions League group stage changes

First off, from the 2018-19 season onwards, there will be 26 automatic entrants to the Champions League group stage, as opposed to 22.

For the first season of the new format, those 26 group-stage entrants - based on the 2017 association coefficients - will be as follows:

  • UEFA Champions League holders.
  • UEFA Europa League holders.
  • Top four from associations ranked 1st to 4th.
  • Top two from associations ranked 5th and 6th.
  • Champions of associations ranked 7th to 10th.

Of course, depending on what teams win the Champions League and Europa League, some countries may end up having more representatives.

However, the number of representatives allowed from a single country is capped at five.

Champions League qualification changes

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As a result of there being four extra automatic group-stage berths there will be fewer places on offer via the qualification rounds.

Previously there had been 10 spots available from the qualification rounds (five via 'Champions Route', five via 'League Route'), but there are now only six.

Of those six places four will go to teams who enter the competition through the Champions Route and two are available to teams via the League Route.

With a lower number of places up for grabs and, in some cases, more games to play, reaching the group stage has become somewhat more difficult.

Europa League 'second chance'

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The restructuring of the format means that a number of associations' teams will have to navigate their way through one more round than was previously the case, making it more difficult to reach the group stage of the competition.

However, from 2018-19 on, any team that is eliminated from any stage of the Champions League qualification process will subsequently drop into the Europa League, in what UEFA has called 'a second chance' at securing continental football for the season.

The teams that lose in the play-off round in both the Champions and League routes will subsequently drop straight into the group stage of the second-tier competition. Those teams that lose in the third qualifying round of the League Route - a total of four - will also drop into the group stage.

The six clubs who are eliminated at the third qualifying round in the Champions Route of the Champions League are guaranteed a place in the Europa League play-off.

The 20 teams that lose in the Champions League preliminary and first qualifying rounds will go into the second qualifying round of Europa League's own Champions Route.

Thirteen clubs that are eliminated from the Champions League second qualifying round will enter the Europa League third qualifying round. Of the 13 clubs, 10 are from the Champions Route, three are from the League Route and they remain in the Europa League's corresponding sections. 

UCL Elimination pointEuropa League entry pointNumber of teams
Play-off (Champions)Group stage4
Play-off (League)Group stage2
3rd qual. round (League)Group stage4
3rd qual. round (Champions)Play-off (Champions)6
2nd qual. round (Champions)3rd qual. round (Champions)10
2nd qual. round (League)3rd qual. round (League)3
1st & prelim. (Champions)2rd qual. round (Champions)20

Champions League TV changes

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While UEFA has made some dramatic changes to the qualification process for the Champions League, the format of the group stage remains the same.

However, the European governing body has decided to shake things up by scrapping the traditional kick-off time for games in favour of a staggered approach.

Generally speaking, Champions League matches have been played at 19:45 (UK time) with some exceptions, but they will now follow a similar schedule as the Europa League.

There will be two kick-off slots: an early kick-off at 17:55 and a later time of 20:00.

When will this all take place?

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The changes to the Champions League will come into effect from the summer of 2018 and are expected to run until 2021 at least, at which point UEFA may revisit.

The 2018-19 tournament will kick off on June 26, 2018 when the preliminary round semi-finals take place, with the preliminary round final being played three days later.

The first and second qualifying rounds will both be held in July with the third qualifying round and play-off taking place in August.

Group stage football will then get under way in September 2018, concluding in December.

The final, which is set to be held at Wanda Metropolitano (home of Atletico Madrid), is scheduled for June 1.