UEFA has today announced a raft of new changes to the regulations of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the start of the 2018/2019 season.

Following February’s UEFA Executive Committee meeting in Bratislava and the decisions taken by the International Football Association Board (“IFAB”) on 3 March 2018 in Zurich, the following changes have been confirmed in relation to the new club competition regulations:

  • From the 2018/2019 season, a fourth substitute listed on the match sheet may take part in knockout matches exclusively during extra time. This will not affect the other three substitutions.
  • For the UEFA Champions League final, the UEFA Europa League final and the UEFA Super Cup, 23 players (instead of 18 players for all other matches) may be included on the match sheet. This will allow 12 substitutes (instead of seven) to sit on the bench in these finals.  UEFA’s hope is that this will give clubs and coaches “more flexibility regarding substitutes, and facilitate their squad management for the most important fixture of the season”.
  • There will be new kick off times in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League:
    • UEFA Champions League play-offs, group-stage games, round of 16 matches, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final will kick off at 8:00pm (UK time). However, on every group-stage matchday, two of the Tuesday and two of the Wednesday matches will kick off at 5:55pm (UK time).  All fixtures on the last matchday will be played simultaneously.  Exceptions to this rule can be made by the UEFA administration.
    • UEFA Europa League matches from the group stage until round of 16 matches will kick off at 5:55pm and 8:00pm (UK time). The kick-off times will be decided in accordance with the draw.  In principle, games within a group will be played simultaneously on the last matchday.  The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will all kick off at 8:00pm (UK time).  Again, exceptions to this rule may be made by the UEFA administration.
    • The UEFA Super Cup will kick off at 8:00pm (UK time). This already applies to the 2018 UEFA Super Cup which will be played on 15 August 2018 in Estonia.
  • Regarding the registration of players after a group stage of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, a club may register three new eligible players without any restrictions. UEFA’s position is that this is “in line with the existing regulatory situation in the different domestic leagues, which does not impose restrictions on the eligibility for competitions of players registered for a new club during the winter transfer window.”  The practical corollary of this rule change is that players will now be able to represent two different clubs in the same European club competition per season, for the first time.
  • As was already the case in the UEFA Champions League, as from the 2018/2019 season, teams which have won the UEFA Europa League (or previously the UEFA Cup) three consecutive times or a minimum of five times may also wear a multiple-winner badge on the shirt sleeve. The only team entitled to wear this badge next season would be Sevilla FC, who have won the competition five times (2006, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016).

These are not the first changes that have been announced by UEFA in respect of the 2018/2019 season.  On 6 March 2018, Sports Shorts reported that UEFA had announced the following changes to its competitions:

  • More teams will qualify directly for the group stage of the competition: 26 next season compared to 22 this season.
  • The top four teams of the four highest-ranking national associations (currently Spain, England, Italy and Germany) will gain direct qualification to the competition’s group stage.
  • Only six teams will gain entry through the qualifying rounds of the competition compared to 10 this season due to more places available for direct qualification to the group stage.
  • More teams will be able to qualify for the Europa League upon elimination from the Champions League, with 10 sides now able to compete in Europe’s second elite club competition.
  • Change in the formula that determines how teams are ranked.
  • There will be no use of VAR in the Champions League next season.

A brave new world?

The UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League will thus look very different in the coming seasons to those past.

With the new changes, the January transfer window will have increased importance, with clubs knowing that they can strengthen their squads without worrying so much about their new signings being cup-tied.  Squad strengthening at that mid-point of the season may also be of increased importance to clubs, as there will be an increased number of clubs playing in the second half of the season (with ten clubs now able to compete in the UEFA Europa League after elimination from the UEFA Champions League).

How traditionalists will react to the changes to the number of permitted substitutions and the squad sizes remain to be seen.  Regardless of their views on such changes, purists will likely be pleased to see that UEFA, unlike FIFA, is continuing to resist the introduction of VAR.