Champions League Format

Since 2015/2016

Qualifying phase

Qualifying-phase matches are played according to the cup (knockout) system, with each club playing each opponent twice, in home and away matches. The team which scores the greater aggregate of goals in the two matches qualifies for the next stage (second qualifying round, third qualifying round, fourth qualifying round or UEFA Champions League group stage, as applicable).The clubs defeated in the first and second qualifying rounds are eliminated from the competition. The clubs defeated in the third qualifying round are entitled to play in the fourth qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in progress. The clubs defeated in the fourth qualifying round are entitled to play in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League in progress. Clubs from the same association cannot be drawn against each other.

Group stage

Once the play-offs have been completed, the 32 remaining clubs are drawn into eight groups of four. Clubs from the same association cannot be drawn into the same group. Each club plays one home and one away match against each other club in its group. Three points are awarded for a win, one point for a draw, and none for a defeat. If two or more teams are equal on points on completion of the group matches, the following criteria are applied to determine the rankings (in descending order):

a) higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question;
b) superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question;
c) higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question;
d) higher number of goals scored away from home in  the group matches played among the teams in question;
e) if, after having applied criteria a) to d), teams still have an equal ranking, criteria a) to d) are reapplied exclusively to the matches between the two teams in question to determine their final  rankings. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria f) to l) apply;
f) superior goal difference from all group matches played;
g) higher number of goals scored from all group matches played;
h) higher number of away goals scored in all group matches;
i) higher number of wins in all group matches;
j) higher number of away wins in all group matches;
k) lower disciplinary points total based only on yellow and red cards received in all group matches (red card = 3 points, expulsion for two yellow cards in one match = 3 points, yellow card = 1 point);
l) higher club coefficient.

The eight group-winners and eight runners-up of the group stage qualify for the round of 16. The clubs that finish this stage in third position in their group move into the round of 32 of the current UEFA Europa League. The clubs that finish this stage in fourth position in their group are eliminated. The four best third-ranked teams are seeded for the UEFA Europa League round of 32. This ranking is determined in accordance with the following criteria (in descending order):

a) higher number of points obtained in the group matches
b) superior goal difference
c) higher number of goals scored
d) higher number of away goals scored
e) higher number of wins
f) higher number of away wins
g) lower disciplinary points total based only on yellow and red cards received in all group matches
h) higher club coefficient.

Round of 16

The round of 16 pairings are determined by means of a draw. The round of 16 is played under the knockout system, on a home-and-away basis (two legs). The UEFA administration ensures that the following principles are respected.

a) Clubs from the same association cannot be drawn against each other.
b) Group winners must be drawn against runners-up from a different group.
e) The runners-up play the first leg at home.

The team which scores the greater aggregate of goals in the two matches qualifies for the quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals

The eight winners of the round of 16 contest the quarter-finals. The quarter-final pairings are determined by means of a draw. The quarter-finals are played under the knockout system, on a home-and-away basis (two legs). The team which scores the greater aggregate of goals in the two matches qualifies for the semi-finals.

Semi-finals

The four winners of the quarter-finals contest the semi-finals. The semi-final pairings are determined by means of a draw. The semi-finals are played under the knockout system, on a home-and-away basis (two legs). The team which scores the greater aggregate of goals in the two matches qualifies for the final.

Final

The final is played as one single match at a neutral venue. If the result stands as a draw at the end of normal playing time, extra time of two periods of 15 minutes is played. If one of the teams scores more goals than the other during extra time, that team is declared the winner. If the two teams are still equal after extra time, the winner is determined by kicks from the penalty mark.

Away goals and extra time under the knockout system

For matches played under the knockout system, if the two teams involved in a tie score the same number of goals over the two legs, the team which scores more away goals qualifies for the next stage. If this procedure does not produce a result, i.e. if both teams score the same number of goals at home and away, two 15-minute periods of extra time are played at the end of the second leg. If, during extra time, both teams score the same number of goals, away goals count double (i.e. the visiting club qualifies). If no goals are scored during extra time, kicks from the penalty mark determine which club qualifies for the next stage.

Seeding of clubs

The UEFA administration seeds clubs for the qualifying phase and the group stage in the UEFA Champions League, in accordance with the club coefficient rankings established at the beginning of the season and with the principles set by the Club Competitions Committee. If, for any unforeseen reason, any of the participants in such rounds are not known at the time of the draw, the coefficient of the club with the higher coefficient of the two clubs involved in an undecided tie will be used for the purposes of the draw.

For the qualifying phase, a draw between the same number of seeded and unseeded clubs determines the pairings, in accordance with the club coefficient ranking established at the beginning of the season. The UEFA administration may form groups, in accordance with the principles set by the Club Competitions Committee.

For the purpose of the draw, the 32 clubs involved in the group stage are seeded into four groups of eight. The first group comprises the titleholder (top seed) and the domestic champions of the seven top-ranked associations in accordance with the access list. If the titleholder is one of the top seven associations' domestic champions, the group is completed with the champion of the association ranked eight. The other three groups are composed in accordance with the club coefficient rankings established at the beginning of the season.

For the round of 16, the group-winners are seeded above the runners-up. There is no seeding in quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Ties

The ties are determined by means of a draw. The club drawn first plays the first leg of the tie at home. The UEFA administration may decide that a tie be played in one leg, if circumstances so require, and will set the principles for determining the winner accordingly.

Titleholder

The UEFA Champions League titleholder is guaranteed a place in the group stage even if it does not qualify for the competition through its domestic championship. If the UEFA Champions League titleholder qualifies for the UEFA Europa League through one of its domestic competitions, the number of places to which its association is entitled in the UEFA Europa League is decreased by one. The created vacancy is rebalanced accordingly and priority for the UEFA Europa League is given to the domestic cup winners (in accordance with the entry stage as per the access list).

The UEFA Europa League titleholder is guaranteed a place in the competition as a minimum in the play-offs. It will have priority filling a vacancy created in the group stage or in the play-offs by the UEFA Champions League titleholder. Exceptionally, an association may be represented by five clubs in the competition if the UEFA Champions League and/or UEFA Europa League titleholder does not also qualify through its domestic championship.

If the UEFA Champions League titleholder and the UEFA Europa League titleholder come from the same association and do not qualify for the competition through their domestic championship, one of the following scenarios applies:

a) If the association is entitled to four places in the competition and both titleholders qualify for the UEFA Europa League through their domestic championship, the lowest-placed of the association’s UEFA Champions League representatives is automatically transferred to the UEFA Europa League (into the UEFA Europa League group stage where a vacancy is created). In this case, the association of the titleholders is entitled to one additional place (total of five) in the UEFA Champions League, but the combined number of places to which it is entitled in the two competitions does not change.

b) If the association is entitled to four places in the competition and only one titleholder qualifies for the UEFA Europa League through its domestic championship, the lowest-placed of the association’s UEFA Champions League representatives is automatically transferred to the UEFA Europa League (into the UEFA Europa League group stage and the access list will be rebalanced accordingly). In this case, the association of the titleholders is entitled to one additional place (total of five) in the UEFA Champions League, but the number of places to which it is entitled in the UEFA Europa League does not change.

c) If the association is entitled to four places in the UEFA Champions League and neither titleholder qualifies for the UEFA Europa League through its domestic championship, the lowest-placed of the association’s UEFA Champions League representatives is automatically transferred to the UEFA Europa League (into the UEFA Europa League group stage and the access list will be rebalanced accordingly). In this case, the association of the titleholders is entitled to one additional place (total of five) in the UEFA Champions League and one additional place (total of four) in the UEFA Europa League.

d) If the association is entitled to fewer than four places in the UEFA Champions League and both titleholders qualify for the UEFA Europa League through their domestic championship, they are entitled to play in the UEFA Champions League in addition to the association’s other UEFA Champions League representative(s). In this case, the combined number of places to which the association of the titleholders is entitled in the two competitions does not change.

e) If the association is entitled to fewer than four places in the UEFA Champions League and one titleholder qualifies for the UEFA Europa League through its domestic championship, both are entitled to play in the UEFA Champions League in addition to the association’s other UEFA Champions League representative(s). In this case, the combined number of places to which the association of the titleholders is entitled in the two competitions is increased by one.

f) If the association is entitled to fewer than four places in the UEFA Champions League and neither titleholder qualifies for the UEFA Europa League through its domestic championship, both are entitled to play in the UEFA Champions League in addition to the association’s other UEFA Champions League representative(s). In this case, the combined number of places to which the association of the titleholders is entitled in the two competitions is increased by two.