New Year, Tweaked Format: Champions League 2018-19

Titans Bastard

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UEFA's latest changes to its club competitions take place this year. It's not a dramatic overhaul, but the balance of clubs in group stage is tilted slightly more towards the big countries.

  • The top three countries in the coefficients (Spain, Germany, England) now have all four entrants go straight to the group stage. #4 doesn't have to qualify.
  • The fourth country (Italy) gets a fourth entrant and neither #3 nor #4 has to qualify
  • Because last seasons CL and EL winners qualified for the CL group stage through the league, France 3 (Lyon) and Czech Republic 1 (Viktoria Plzeň) get bumped up to CL group stage
  • There are now only six places for qualifiers instead of ten. The slots for the "champions route" for the smaller countries have been reduced from five to four. The slots for the "league route" for the non-champions of larger countries have been reduced from five to two. That's because the formerly "league route" clubs from big countries like Valencia, Dortmund, Liverpool, and Roma have been bumped directly to the group stage.
  • The UEFA has adopted an NCAA-style "play-in" bracket for the lowest-ranking countries. Gibraltar is hosting this Preliminary Round, which begins on Tuesday with one-leg semifinals. A one-leg final on Friday determines who advances to the first qualifying round.

Hoffenheim is the only group stage débutante so far, though that could always change depending on how qualifying goes.

Preliminary Round SF - 6/26
FC Santa Coloma (AND) vs. Drita (KOS)
La Fiorita (SMR) vs. Lincoln Red Imps (GIB)

Preliminary Round Final - 6/29

1st Qualifying Round - 7/10-11 and 7/17-18

Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO) vs. Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA)
Shkëndija (MKD) vs. The New Saints (WAL)
Sūduva Marijampolė (LTU) vs. APOEL (CYP)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SLO) vs. Qarabağ (AZE)
F91 Dudelange (LUX) vs. Videoton (HUN)
[prelim winners] vs. Malmö (SWE)
Víkingur Gøta (FAR) vs. HJK (FIN)
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL) vs. Crusaders (NIR)
Cork City (IRL) vs. Legia Warsaw (POL)
Valur (ISL) vs. Rosenborg (NOR)
Kukësi (ALB) vs. Valletta (MLT)
Flora Tallinn (EST) vs. Hapoel Be'er Sheva (ISR)
Spartaks Jūrmala (LAT) vs. Red Star Belgrade (SRB)
Alashkert (ARM) vs. Celtic (SCO)
Spartak Trnava (SVK) vs. Zrinjski Mostar (BIH)
Astana (KAZ) vs. Sutjeska Nikšić (MNE)

Midtjylland (DEN), CFR Cluj (ROU), Dinamo Zagreb (CRO), and BATE Borisov (BLR) await in the following round. The CL qualifying bracket has become more forgiving: losers from the first qualifying round parachute into the Europa qualifying system. In the past, you had to get to the third qualifying round to parachute into the EL.
 

Cuzittt

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Drita of Kosovo Will move forward to face Malmö after scoring three times in extra time to destroy the Red Imps 4-1.

The second goal was scored in extra time of the first half of added extra time on a Penalty... Which also saw one of the Red Imp defenders go out on a straight red.

Of course, at the time before the Red Card/penalty, Lincoln was up a man as Drita had gone to 10 men as one of the Kosavars had gotten his second yellow of the game moments earlier.

12 yellows and 2 reds in the match.

The 3 preliminary losers all drop to Europa and the battle for Baku.
 

Domer

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Alashkert vs. Celtic is a nice World Cup appetizer this afternoon. It looks like B/R hasn’t yet started charging a fee to watch its stream.
 

OilCanShotTupac

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This is one of my favorite posts of the new football season. Love all these teams from smaller countries battling for a shot at glory.
 

Titans Bastard

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1st Qualifying Round - 7/10-11 and 7/17-18
Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO) vs. Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA)
Shkëndija (MKD)
vs. The New Saints (WAL)
Sūduva Marijampolė (LTU) vs. APOEL (CYP)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SLO) vs. Qarabağ (AZE)
F91 Dudelange (LUX) vs. Vidi (HUN)
Drita (KOS) vs. Malmö (SWE)
Víkingur Gøta (FAR) vs. HJK (FIN)
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)
vs. Crusaders (NIR)
Cork City (IRL) vs. Legia Warsaw (POL)
Valur (ISL) vs. Rosenborg (NOR)
Kukësi (ALB)
vs. Valletta (MLT)
Flora Tallinn (EST) vs. Hapoel Be'er Sheva (ISR)
Spartaks Jūrmala (LAT) vs. Red Star Belgrade (SRB)
Alashkert (ARM) vs. Celtic (SCO)
Spartak Trnava (SVK)
vs. Zrinjski Mostar (BIH)
Astana (KAZ) vs. Sutjeska Nikšić (MNE)

Midtjylland (DEN), CFR Cluj (ROU), Dinamo Zagreb (CRO), and BATE Borisov (BLR) await in the following round. The CL qualifying bracket has become more forgiving: losers from the first qualifying round parachute into the Europa qualifying system. In the past, you had to get to the third qualifying round to parachute into the EL.
Winners bolded in the quoted post. It was almost an entirely upset-free round, with the exception of Sūduva's victory over APOEL.

Technically Shkëndija and Spartak Trnava were seeding upsets, but their opponents were far from being "big" clubs for this round.

Iceland's Valur nearly knocked off Rosenborg on away goals, but Lord Nicklas Bendtner scored his second penalty of the game in the fourth minute of stoppage time to put the Norwegians on top.


All the losers, as well as the losers from the preliminary round, move into a special bracket in Europa League qualifiers. They'll be joined each round by a fresh batch of CLQ losers until finally eight clubs from this group reach to EL group stage.

Meanwhile, the 2nd qualifying round in the CL:

Champions Path

Astana (KAZ) vs. Midtjylland (DEN)
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL) vs. Vidi (HUN)
Kukësi (ALB) vs. Qarabağ (AZE)
CFR Cluj (ROU) vs. Malmö (SWE)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) vs. Hapoel Be'er Sheva (ISR)
Red Star Belgrade (SRB) vs. Sūduva Marijampolė (LTU)
BATE Borisov (BLR) vs. HJK (FIN)
Shkëndija (MKD) vs. Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA)
Legia Warsaw (POL) vs. Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Celtic (SCO) vs. Rosenborg (NOR)

League Path

PAOK (GRE) vs. Basel (SUI)
Ajax (NED) vs. Sturm Graz (AUT)


Celtic vs. Rosenborg would be an awesome matchup in, say, 1998.
 

Titans Bastard

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There were three qualifiers today, with the rest coming tomorrow.

Shkëndija (Macedonia) eked out a 0-0 draw at Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) to hold onto a surprising 1-0 aggregate victory. Moldova ain't much, but Sheriff Tiraspol seems to be backed by enough sketchy Transnistrian money that they occasionally can make the Europa League group stages. I guess they still can this year based on the new format.

Legia Warsaw blew the first leg by losing 2-0 and couldn't recover on the road. They won 1-0, but getting two red cards didn't help the cause and they went down to Spartak Trnava (Slovakia).
 

Titans Bastard

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The second qualifying round has been completed and the third qualifying round is set.

Celtic held Rosenborg to a 0-0 draw in Trondheim, clinching a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Ajax cruised over Sturm Graz, 5-1 on agg.

PAOK also crushed FC Basel 5-1 over two legs, which is a little surprising to me given how strong Basel has been in Europe in recent times.

Midtjylland (Denmark) fell to Astana (Kazakhstan) 2-1 on aggregate. The Kazakh league has been one of UEFA's steady risers, going from the mid-40s to the mid-20s in the coefficient rankings in the last ten years.

Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria), who have made the group stage of the CL or EL in four of the last five seasons, crashed out to Vidi of Hungary (until this year known as Videoton).

The draw:

Champions Path
Celtic (SCO) vs. AEK Athens (GRE)
Red Bull Salzburg (AUT) vs. Shkëndija (MKD)
Red Star Belgrade (SRB) vs. Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Qarabağ (AZE) vs. BATE Borisov (BLR)
Astana (KAZ) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Malmö (SWE) vs. Vidi (HUN)

League Path
Standard Liège (BEL) vs. Ajax (NED)
Benfica (POR) vs. Fenerbahçe (TUR)
Slavia Prague (CZE) vs. Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
PAOK (GRE) vs. Spartak Moscow (RUS)

There are two rounds left, so the eight League Path clubs are competing for two slots. The Champions Path clubs are competing for four slots [PSV and Young Boys join in the final round]. All winners in the upcoming round are guaranteed to make the group stage of at least the EL.
 

SoxFanInCali

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PAOK taking out Basel moves Roma from pot 3 up to pot 2 for the group stage draw.

As things stand, Liverpool are the top rated team in pot 3, and can still move into pot 2 if Benfica fail to get through their qualifying games.
 

Nick Kaufman

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PAOK also crushed FC Basel 5-1 over two legs, which is a little surprising to me given how strong Basel has been in Europe in recent times.
It's my understanding that Basel was decimated by injuries.
 

Titans Bastard

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League Path looks at least as strong as Champions Path, if not stronger (on history).
It's always been that way since UEFA changed the qualifying format to separate league champions from non-champions qualifiers of larger countries. It's a concession to the smaller leagues - it guarantees that they'll collectively have at least some representation in the group stage, and access to some of that TV money (even though the TV money isn't evenly split among clubs).

Under the new system used in 2018-19, the CL Champions Path clubs lose one CL group stage slot, but they have extra perks with regards to the Europa League. In the past losing clubs in the CL1Q and CL2Q were eliminated from Europe. Only losing clubs from CL3Q and CL4Q parachuted to Europa League qualifiers. Now all CL qualifying losers parachute to ELQ and the league champions who lose in CLQ get their own separate EL qualifying bracket. This is advantageous to them because playing in a champions-only EL qualifying bracket precludes the possibility of playing any clubs from the top 11 leagues in the UEFA coefficients (by default, because the champions of those countries automatically qualified for the CL group stage).

League path losers Basel and Sturm Graz also parachute to the Europa League, but they are thrown into the general bracket; if Sturm advance to the final qualifying round they might wind up facing Sevilla or Zenit or someone scary like that. Basel have such a good club coefficient that they'll be seeded all the way through and are guaranteed to be Pot 1 if they make it to the group stage.
 

Domer

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However, the non-champions path should be a little weaker than in years past because the top four leagues (fourth in England, Spain, and Germany; third in Italy) no longer participate, as they now go straight to the group stage.
 

Nick Kaufman

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Celtic have scored one and we have a game now. I was afraid that I jinxed it, please God, no.
 

Titans Bastard

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It's a good day for Greek clubs in general, as PAOK got past Spartak Moscow by preserving a 3-2 first leg win with a 0-0 draw in Russia.

What's particularly nice for AEK is that the CL qualifying draws are made before the results of the previous round have been completed. Consequently, the draw assumes that the higher seeded team from the 3rd qualifying round will advance. That means that an unseeded 3QR team that wins will "steal" the higher coefficient of their vanquished opponents. AEK Athens has the lowest coefficient in the 4QR because they've been in the wilderness for a bit, but they'll take Celtic's seeded status and a relatively simple matchup against Hungary's Vidi.

Final round draw:
Champions Path
Red Star Belgrade vs. Red Bull Salzburg
BATE Borisov vs. PSV Eindhoven
Young Boys vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Vidi vs. AEK Athens

League Path
Benfica vs. PAOK
Ajax vs. Dynamo Kyiv

Winners go to the CL group stage, losers go to the EL group stage.
 

Titans Bastard

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PAOK are having a nice little qualifying campaign. They've knocked out Basel, Spartak Moscow, and now are taking a draw against Benfica back home for the second leg.

They have a solid chance of making it to their first CL group stage ever. Other potential group stage debutantes are Young Boys, Vidi, and technically...Red Star Belgrade, who have never qualified for the tournament since the advent of the Champions League, though obviously they were continental champions in 1991.


PSV beat BATE Borisov 3-2 in Belarus thanks to an 89th minute winner that followed an 88th minute BATE equalizer. That equalizer was scored by 37 year old Alexander Hleb, who I totally didn't know was still playing.
 

Titans Bastard

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Three clubs booked a place in the group stage today: Ajax, AEK Athens, and Young Boys. Young Boys once made it to the semifinals of the European Cup back in the 1958-59 season, but have never played in the Champions League group stage having failed to qualify in five previous attempts. [Ed.'s note: maybe googling "Young Boys in Europe" wasn't the best decision I've made today]

Greek representation in the CL group stage has been dominated by Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. AEK has made it four times, but none since 2006-07. Congrats to @Nick Kaufman. Greece has a chance to get two atypical representatives tomorrow with PAOK taking a 1-1 aggregate scoreline against Benfica to Thessaloniki. PAOK are a very familiar face in the Europa League group stage, but have never qualified for the big time.
 

Nick Kaufman

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Thank you Titans Bastard, we played bad against a mediocre side that shouldn't have given us so much trouble. All in all, it feels we got lucky to get into the group stage, but it feels good to back there after so long.
 

Spacemans Bong

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Three clubs booked a place in the group stage today: Ajax, AEK Athens, and Young Boys. Young Boys once made it to the semifinals of the European Cup back in the 1958-59 season, but have never played in the Champions League group stage having failed to qualify in five previous attempts. [Ed.'s note: maybe googling "Young Boys in Europe" wasn't the best decision I've made today]

Greek representation in the CL group stage has been dominated by Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. AEK has made it four times, but none since 2006-07. Congrats to @Nick Kaufman. Greece has a chance to get two atypical representatives tomorrow with PAOK taking a 1-1 aggregate scoreline against Benfica to Thessaloniki. PAOK are a very familiar face in the Europa League group stage, but have never qualified for the big time.
Ajax qualifying means they basically end up getting Nicolas Tagliafico, Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind for free, as their transfer fees and wages will be more than cancelled out by the huge bonus Ajax get for qualifying - about €42m. A gamble Ajax could afford to take and one that's going to pay off handsomely.

PSV have a great chance of qualifying too, so the Dutch coefficient should go way up as a result.
 

Titans Bastard

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Yup, turned out to be smooth sailing for Benfica against PAOK.

Red Star Belgrade came back from a 2-0 deficit with two quick goals and held on to advance on away goals to qualify for the CL group stage for the first time.

Red Bull Salzburg are just epic choke artists in CL qualifying. They've fallen at the final hurdle so many times now and not even to very good teams:

2009/10 - lost to Maccabi Haifa
2010/11 - lost to Hapoel Tel Aviv
2014/15 - lost to Malmö
2016/17 - lost to Dinamo Zagreb
2018/19 - lost fo Red Star Belgrade

They have other embarrassing losses in earlier rounds. F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in 2012/13 stands out. In terms of group stage qualifications, it's still Austria Salzburg 1, Red Bull Salzburg 0.
 

SoxFanInCali

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Congrats Vinho, even though Benfica's win keeps Liverpool from moving up into Pot 2 for the draw.

Liverpool is definitely the team nobody wants to draw from Pot 3. Valencia managed to move up from Pot 4 into Pot 3 with this week's results, but Inter and Hoffenheim are still lurking in Pot 4.
 

rguilmar

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Congrats Vinho, even though Benfica's win keeps Liverpool from moving up into Pot 2 for the draw.

Liverpool is definitely the team nobody wants to draw from Pot 3. Valencia managed to move up from Pot 4 into Pot 3 with this week's results, but Inter and Hoffenheim are still lurking in Pot 4.
Man, there could be a pretty nice group of death:

Barca/ Atletico/ Fascists/ PSG
Dortmund
Liverpool
Inter
 

bosox4283

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I can't be the only one here counting down until 11:30. There are some strong teams in the third and fourth groups, so there's a lot of luck this year.
 

teddykgb

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Some say the wreckage from the Manchester City bus is still smoldering on Anfield Road...
Imagine if that happened to Liverpool? You guys would still be holding inquests and trying to get City banned from CL forever. But you know, it was just plucky little Liverpool creating atmosphere
 

Dummy Hoy

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See, this I like. The vast majority of 'Pool fans would try to deny, but PSK admits how absurdly blind they are to any possible criticism.

For the record, I thought the atmosphere leading to Anfield was amazing, but I tend to be a bit lenient on the rough stuff sometimes.
 

thehitcat

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Now I have the Herd with not colin cowherd on FS1 (after having to watch even without sound Shannon and Skip which made me want to gouge my eyes out.) Am I doing something wrong? Eff it I can't find it and I have to go. Enjoy the draw everyone.
 

SoxFanInCali

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Only place I find it on TV is on Univision in Spanish. I think it's streaming at UEFA.com, too.