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The UEFA Champions League explained

Here’s a detailed look at how Europe’s most prestigious club competition works.

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Final
Manuel Neuer, captain of FC Bayern Munich lifts the UEFA Champions League Trophy following his team’s victory in the UEFA Champions League Final match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on August 23, 2020 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Photo by Julian Finney - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Manchester City and Chelsea will meet in the 2021 Champions League final on Saturday, May 29, concluding Europe’s most prestigious club tournament and UEFA’s biggest revenue generator. The Champions League also draws millions of fans from across the globe to see top clubs from different domestic leagues face off. Here’s how the Champions League works.

Champions League history

The competition has been operating since 1955-56, when it was known as the European Cup. The first tournament had 16 participants and has grown to 32 teams over the years. The European Cup was a straight knockout competition until 1991. The format changed to a knockout round qualifying stage followed by two group stages with the winners meeting for the final. In 1992-93, the competition changed to the Champions League.

Champions League qualification and format

Prior to the expansion of the Champions League, the competition took the league champion from each of Europe’s participating domestic leagues and the defending Champions League winner. The tournament has expanded to 32 teams and UEFA has added various methods to qualify. The defending champion continues to qualify for the following season’s league regardless of domestic league placement. This rule affected Tottenham in the 2012-13 season after Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League but finished sixth in the Premier League, two spots outside UEFA’s automatic qualifiers.

UEFA uses a coefficient to determine how many clubs from each league get automatic qualification. These coefficients are based on club performances in UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions over previous seasons. Although these coefficients can change, they rarely do due to the success of leagues with more entries. As things currently stand, UEFA’s top four associations get four automatic berths into the Champions League. Associations ranked 5 and 6 get two automatic berths and the league champions from associations 7 through 10 get an automatic berth. This accounts for 24 of the 32 available slots. The rest of Europe’s teams can get in through a series of qualifying tournaments. From the 2014-15 season, the UEFA Europa League winner has qualified for the following season’s Champions League.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have qualified for the Champions League group stage 25 teams each, sharing the record for most appearances by a single club. FC Porto and Bayern Munich come in next with 24 appearances each.

Champions League Winners

Real Madrid are kings of the Champions League, racking up 13 titles in the competition’s history. AC Milan rank second with seven titles, with the last triumph coming in 2007. 2020 winners Bayern Munich and 2019 champions Liverpool each have six titles and Barcelona rounds out the top five with five trophies. Italian giants Juventus have the most runner-up finishes with seven.

Spanish clubs have the most combined titles with 18, followed by English clubs with 13 and Italian clubs with 12. Germany’s clubs have captured eight titles while the Dutch Eredivisie has six Champions League crowns to its name, with flagship club Ajax counting four wins.

Who is favored to win in 2021?

Manchester City is the favorite over Chelsea, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The Premier League champions are -210 in the final while Chelsea is +165.

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