The Ultimate Guide to: The UEFA Champions League
Be in the know for the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League with our ultimate tournament guide. We'll take a look at the history of the tournament and preview the upcoming season.
September 28, 2023
The UEFA Champions League is the pinnacle of European football, where the continent’s best clubs battle for supremacy. With a rich history dating back to 1955, this prestigious tournament has witnessed countless memorable moments and crowned legends of the game. As the 2023/24 season gets underway, let’s dive into the ultimate guide to the UEFA Champions League, exploring its history and identifying the teams to watch out for in the upcoming campaign.
A Glimpse into History…
Formerly known as the European Cup, the tournament was inaugurated in the 1955/56 season. Real Madrid, led by the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano, won the inaugural trophy and went on to establish a dynasty in the early years, winning the first five Champions Leagues. Since then, the competition has grown exponentially, expanding to include 32 teams in the group stage, which has added even more excitement and intensity to the tournament. This year’s edition is the last to feature the current format, before a one-league, 36-team competition starts next year.
In the modern era, the tournament has witnessed the dominance of clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Liverpool, with each claiming multiple titles. Manchester City head into this season’s tournament as current champions. A late Rodri goal saw them edge Inter Milan 1-0, to lift the Champions League trophy for the first time, and complete a historic treble.
The Champions League has served up some iconic moments over the years. Here are our picks of a few:
Liverpool’s Comeback Against Barcelona (2019): In the 2018-2019 semi-final, Barcelona headed to Merseyside with one foot in the Final. After losing 3-0 in the first leg at Camp Nou, The Reds staged an incredible comeback at Anfield, winning 4-0 in the second leg. Divock Origi’s iconic goal from a quickly taken Trent Alexander-Arnold corner played a pivotal role in the victory.
Manchester United’s Last-Minute Victory (1999): In the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, Manchester United faced Bayern Munich. Trailing 1-0 as injury time approached, United scored two dramatic goals in injury time, with Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finding the net to secure a 2-1 victory and their second European Cup.
Barcelona’s “Remontada” Against PSG (2017): In the round of 16, Barcelona faced Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in 2017 after losing 4-0 in the first leg. In a historic comeback, Barcelona won the second leg 6-1, with the decisive goal coming from Sergi Roberto in the dying moments, completing a 6-5 aggregate victory.
Chelsea’s First Champions League Victory (2012): Chelsea won their first UEFA Champions League title in 2012. In the final against Bayern Munich, the match went to a penalty shootout, after Didier Drogba’s powerful header found the back of the net in stoppage time. Drogba then scored the winning penalty, making it a historic moment for the London club.
How Does Qualifying Work?
Here’s an overview of UEFA Champions League qualifying:
Domestic League Performance: Clubs qualify for the UEFA Champions League based on their performance in their respective domestic leagues. The stronger the league, the more teams it can send to the competition. Typically, the top-performing teams in the top leagues receive direct entry into the group stage, while others must go through qualifying rounds.
Access List: UEFA has an access list that determines how many teams each country can send to the Champions League. The top-ranking associations (countries) get more spots, and these are distributed as follows:
- Associations ranked 1st to 4th get four direct group stage spots.
- Associations ranked 5th to 6th get three direct group stage spots.
- Associations ranked 7th to 15th get two direct group stage spots.
- Associations ranked 16th to 55th get one direct group stage spot.
Qualifying Rounds: Teams from associations with fewer direct group stage spots must go through qualifying rounds to earn a place in the group stage. These rounds include the following stages:
- First Qualifying Round: Clubs from lower-ranked associations play each other.
- Second Qualifying Round: Winners from the first round join clubs from slightly higher-ranked associations.
- Third Qualifying Round: The winners from the second round face stronger opponents.
- Play-off Round: The final round of qualifiers before the group stage, where the remaining teams compete for a place in the main tournament.
Play-off Round Winners: The clubs that win in the play-off round join the teams that received direct entry into the group stage, forming the final group stage line-up.
So Who’s Qualified for the 2023/24 Season?
The main tournament begins with a group stage consisting of 32 teams divided into eight groups of four. They play a round-robin format, with each team facing the others in its group both home and away. The group stage acts as a crucible where the best talents in the sport showcase their skills, and the drama and excitement of the tournament often unfold in unexpected ways. With the promise of iconic goals, dramatic saves, and unforgettable moments, the group stage is a spectacle that captures the hearts and minds of football enthusiasts worldwide.
Top 10 Goals – Last Season
Still not convinced? Here’s a pick of the Top 10 goals from last season’s tournament (via TNT Sports):
How Will the English Teams Fare?
Arsenal – Back amongst Europe’s elite for the first time in 7 years, The Gunners will fancy their chances of a deep run in the tournament. Big money signings have been added to a young squad full of star potential. A 4-0 rout of PSV Eindhoven on Matchday 1 has fans already dreaming of a May day out at Wembley.
Newcastle United – The Magpies are also back in the Champions League, but after a 20-year wait. Eddie Howe’s squad has seen heavy investment in recent seasons, and they’ll need every £ to help out. Drawn in the Group of Death alongside European heavyweights Paris St. Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan, they have their work cut out for them.
Manchester City – Fresh of their maiden UCL win and the treble, can the Citizens go back-to-back? A squad with arguably the most depth in the tournament, their “C-team” would stroll into most Starting XI’s in Europe. With Pep Guardiola barking from the touchline and Erling Haaland seemingly scoring for fun, it’s becoming a question of when not if.
Manchester United – Last season’s success is firmly in the rear-view. Manager Erik ten Hag has his hands full – not just on the pitch, but off it as well. Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro will need to turn up every Tuesday/Wednesday night if the Red Devils are to have any chance of reaching it past the Round of 16.
Attending the UEFA Champions League
Looking to experience the magic of a European night? Corinthian Sports are offering bespoke hospitality packages to the biggest and best games for the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League season. With only 5 group games left, availability is running out – don’t miss out on your chance to see Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City in action against Europe’s elite.