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Premier League vs Champions League: What Is The Difference?

Premier League vs Champions League: What Is The Difference?

Football can be a source of serious debate. Something about the world's most popular sport makes it capable of producing heated arguments on everything from the best strikers of all time to the most decorated players in history or whether Lionel Messi is the greatest of all time.

Regardless of all these disagreements, there's one thing that many football fans can agree on: the Premier League is the most competitive division in the world. Despite being dominated by world class talents and elite coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, the English league consistently throws up surprise results and is lauded as being a competition in which anyone can beat anyone. Results such as AFC Bournemouth's recent 3-0 battering of Manchester United at Old Trafford are a testament to this.

Meanwhile, the UEFA Champions League is often seen as the highest quality form of football to be found anywhere in the planet, even better than the Premier League.

While there are regularly surprises and shocks here too, the winners of the Champions League will usually be the cream of the crop, the most talented operators in world football. But what exactly is the difference between these two formats?

In this article, we'll be comparing Premier League vs Champions League, explaining the major differences between the two competitions and giving you an in-depth guide to the structure of each format. We'll also look at how both competitions have changed and evolved over the years, with a particular focus on how the UEFA Champions League will be changing from the 2024/25 season onwards. 

What Is The Premier League?

The Premier League is the top division of English football. In total, England and Wales have four professional divisions: League Two (the fourth tier), League One (the third tier), the Championship (the second tier), and the Premier League (the first tier).

The Premier League is where all the country's best teams compete against each other, from historic clubs such as Liverpool, Everton and Aston Villa to reigning European Champions Manchester City.

The Premier League kicks off each season in August, and generally finishes in May, with each campaign lasting roughly 9 months. During this time, each team in the league plays each other twice, once at home and once away from home.

There are 20 teams in total, which means that each club plays 38 games in a Premier League season. This makes for 380 fixtures in total throughout the entire English Premier League (EPL) season. You can find out more information about the format here.

What Is The Champions League?

The Champions League is Europe's most elite continental competition. What that means is that this knockout competition is contested by clubs from across the continent, from England to Turkey, Spain to Poland, and everything in between.

It's widely considered to be the most illustrious club competition in the world, with past winners including giant clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Chelsea.

Rather than being a league format like the EPL, Bundesliga or La Liga, the UEFA Champions League uses a knockout structure that increases the sense of jeopardy in the final stages of the tournament, as the amount of teams competing is gradually halved at each stage of the competition, going down from 32 at the beginning of the group stages to just two in the final.

Running throughout the season, with the first preliminary qualifying rounds taking place in June and the final typically taking place in late May, the Champions League progresses each year alongside the Premier League and other domestic European leagues, using a similar calendar.

However, these are two separate competitions with some very clear differences between them.

Premier League Vs Champions League: The Key Differences

Put simply, the difference between the Premier League and the Champions League is that the Premier League is a domestic competition which only includes teams from England and Wales, whereas the Champions League is a continental knockout tournament contested by teams from all over Europe.

One of the most important things to note is that despite its title, the Champions League is not a league system but a knockout competition. While the Premier League is a 38-game season in which the team that has accumulated the most points wins the title, the winner of Europe's greatest trophy is decided using a series of knockout rounds.

Teams battle it out to progress from the Round of 16, through to the quarter-finals and semi-finals (all of which are two-legged games decided by aggregate scores), and eventually to a one-off final.

This means that it only takes one bad performance to be booted out of the competition, and sometimes huge clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United or Paris Saint Germain have exited the tournament against all the odds.

That being said, the Champions League has historically always begun with a group stage that allows teams to acquire points over a short round of fixtures (with four teams competing home and away against each other team in every group). Although that aspect of the format is something that's all about to change…

How Has The Champions League Format Changed?

There has been some controversy about recently announced changes to the structure of the Champions League, as UEFA choose to move away from the tried and tested formula that has made the tournament beloved by fans across the world. 

As of the 2024/25 season, the Champions League will move from 32 teams to 36 teams, and there will no longer be a group stage structure in place. Instead of having eight groups of four, with any team who doesn't get into the top two of their group exiting the competition, the UCL will now use the start-of-season draw to create a league-phase fixture selection.

The 36 teams will be divided into four pots of nine depending on their league position, with Pot 1 having the UCL titleholders and the eight clubs with the best coefficients, and Pots 2-4 will be ordered accordingly depending on coefficient. 

Each club will have eight games (four at home and four away), against other sides of varying levels of quality. The final table after these opening fixtures will see the top eight going straight to the round of 16, while teams finishing between nine and 24 will enter a play-off for the other last 16 places.

Teams 25 to 36 will be eliminated from Europe, and unlike the current format that sees 3rd-placed Champions League teams joining the knockout stages of the Europa League (the second best European competition), these teams will be out of continental competition for the rest of the season. 

While UEFA are unlikely to admit it, these rule changes ultimately boil down to money — more teams means more games, which leads to greater revenue for the organisers and clubs involved. Whether the format will be as entertaining as the group stage structure we're all used to is yet to be seen — it's certainly more confusing.

Also, as of June 2021 it was decided that the away goals rule would be removed, meaning that the number of goals either team scored in the away leg, would have no bearing on who progressed in the event of a draw across 2 legs.

How Has The Premier League Format Changed Over The Years?

The Premier League originated in 1992, when England's best teams decided to break away from the traditional English Football League structure that had been in place since 1888 (it remains the oldest football competition in the world today) and form their own competition.

The Founder Member Agreement established the league's basic principles, with one of the key changes being that the new Premier League would have commercial independence from the Football Association and the Football League, allowing it to form extremely lucrative broadcast and sponsorship deals with companies such as Sky.

While the organisation of the English top flight has been fairly consistent since that point, structuring of the league has changed a little. Initially in 1992, there were 22 teams in the league; however, from the early days, it was the intention of the league to reduce this to 20 in order to make it an even more exclusive and competitive division.

This eventually happened after the 1994/95 season, when four teams were relegated and only two promoted to the league, restructuring it to 20 teams. It's remained that way ever since.

There haven't been many major changes to the format other than this; however, a few tweaks have been made over the years. As the structuring of European competitions have changed, so has the qualification for those tournaments.

English clubs' success in Europe means that the Premier League's top four have been giving spots in the Champions League in recent years. However, now that things are changing dramatically, there will be even more places in the UCL available to teams in the Premier League. Under the new coefficient set-up, it's highly likely that five teams from England will make the UCL first round, and potentially even more.

If you want to find out more about how football in England the rest of Europe is structured, check out our guide to Premier League 2, the elite-level youth team system that has been in place since 2016/17.