A decision on a planned new Champions League format, with a 10-match first phase from 2024, has been delayed.
The proposal, which has been under discussion for almost two years, had been expected to be signed off by Uefa’s executive committee on Wednesday but has been pushed back to 19 April.
Under the new format, the current group phase would be scrapped.
In its place, the number of qualifiers will be expanded from 32 to 36, with space for two ‘wild card’ entries.
The wild cards will be reserved for clubs with the highest Uefa co-efficient – points used to rank clubs based on past European success – who have not qualified for the competition through their league position.
If the format was being used now, based on the current table it would mean Liverpool would gain a Champions League spot despite being seventh in the Premier League.
Sources say there are no major stumbling blocks that cannot be overcome, and rumoured arguments over commercial deals are incorrect.
However, it is known that within the major clubs there is disquiet over the corporate governance of the European competitions.
In addition, clubs are aware of the external opposition to the new format, specifically the two wild cards that are planned to be given to the highest ranking clubs who do not qualify for the Champions League.
There has been opposition to the plans, in particular from the European Leagues organisation, who said it would create a “de facto closed shop”.
However, Uefa officials and representatives from the European Club Association have backed the new arrangement, which former Manchester United keeper and current Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar is credited with suggesting.
Under the new format, each team will play 10 matches against opponents varying in strength, with the results forming an overall league table.
Those in the highest eight positions will move on to the knockout phase, with those from ninth to 24th going into a play-off round.
The new format will cause a problem for the English game and in particular the EFL Cup as the additional fixtures will need the mid-week slots usually allocated to the secondary cup competition.
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish previously said the 36-team Champions League would have “a devastating effect” on the English game.
What could it mean for English football? – analysis
It is 99% certain these proposals will be ratified, which will give those responsible for running English football a problem.
Firstly, the new format will require 19 match rounds, rather than the current 13, although as the current last-16 schedule has games spread across four weeks, only four additional midweeks may be required.
In a non-coronavirus affected English calendar, the only way of achieving that between the beginning of September and Christmas is to use the dates reserved for the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the EFL Cup, and the midweek slot the Premier League claims around the end of November and beginning of December.
If the EFL Cup is to be preserved, one option would be to follow the example of this season, when the first four rounds were played before the group stage of European competition began – in a ‘normal’ year, that would be August.
However, at least one English club will be involved in European qualifiers, which this season led to Tottenham having to play on Tuesday and Thursday in the same week, which Jose Mourinho was furious about.
Another option would be to scrap FA Cup replays and reduce the EFL Cup semi-finals to one game for each of the two ties to create space in the calendar.
A third would be to allow Premier League teams also in Europe to select under-23 teams for the EFL Cup, although even that could be met with opposition from Uefa, who claim primacy over midweeks for television purposes – and have 55 countries to fund with their broadcast contracts – and would not want any overlap.
The nuclear option would be to abandon the EFL Cup completely, an argument which has been made by some for a while now.
But that would rob the Football League of its greatest money maker, generating cash which is distributed across all three of its leagues.
EFL chairman Rick Parry has been aware of this looming problem for a while now, which is why he was so keen to embrace the controversial Project Big Picture proposals last year.
The Premier League are working on their own strategic review now – but Uefa’s impending decision will frame the conclusions and how they are implemented.