Last Ever Champions League Group Stage Starts As Manchester City Defend Title
Manchester City begin their defence of the Champions League on Tuesday when the group stage kicks off in the last season in its current format as Europe's elite club competition gets ready for a radical change. Unveiled by UEFA in 2021 at the height of the crisis which saw a group of 12 clubs announce a breakaway Super League before promptly abandoning the project, the new-look Champions League will begin next year.
It will see the number of clubs involved in the competition proper increase from 32 to 36, with all participants going into a single league in which teams will play eight games -- up from the current six -- in what is known as the "Swiss system".
This is therefore the last campaign, after two decades, in which the Champions League will begin with a group stage featuring eight sections of four teams, with the top two in each advancing to the last 16.
"We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve competitive balance," said Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football's governing body, when the changes to the Champions League were confirmed in May last year.
The format that is on its way out was brought in for the 2003/04 season, ending an experiment with a second group stage.
In terms of symmetry and simplicity it cannot be bettered, with half the teams advancing from the group stage to the last 16.
But this is an era in which major club and international competitions keep expanding. In addition, there has been a recognition that the Champions League group stage has gone somewhat stale.
The financial gulf between the continent's most powerful clubs and the rest is growing all the time, accentuated in particular by the decision to award a portion of prize