UEFA confirmed on Sunday the creation of a third European club competition from the 2021/22 season designed to offer more clubs and associations the chance to play European football.
After approval from UEFA’s Executive Committee in Dublin, the Europa League will be cut from its current 48-team group stage so that all three competitions feature 32 teams in eight groups of four.
The seventh-placed teams in Europe’s top four leagues will qualify for the new competition, and they will be joined by a host of clubs from smaller associations.
While the structure to UEFA’s landmark competition the Champions League remains untouched, Europa League winners will now progress automatically to the last 16 of the competition.
Teams that finish second in their Europa League group and third-placed teams from the eight Champions League groups will playoff to join the eight group winners in the last 16.
That process in repeated in the UEL2 with the eight second-placed teams from the group stage meeting the eight third-placed teams in the Europa League for a place in the last 16.
“There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
“This competition was borne out of ongoing dialogue with clubs through the European Club Association. There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition.”
UEFA has been under increasing pressure to reform its club competitions by the threat of a breakaway super league formed by top clubs in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.
However, the new competition is designed to appease those further down the food chain unhappy at changes to guarantee English, Spanish, German and Italian clubs 16 of the 32 places available in the Champions League.
Matches in the UEL2 will be played like Europa League games on Thursday nights to ensure the Champions League’s prime Tuesday and Wednesday night TV slots are untouched.
All three European finals will take place in the same week with the new competition played on the Wednesday, Europa League final a day later and Champions League final on Saturday.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)