Champions League set for major re-organisation
English clubs will dominate the pot of top seeds in tomorrow's Champions League draw but before the names are drawn out of the hat UEFA are due to announce sweeping changes to the format of the competition.
All four English representatives - Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and, if they overcome Sparta Prague tonight, Arsenal - are set to be among the eight top-seeded clubs which means they will avoid holders AC Milan, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the group stage of Europe's elite club competition.
But UEFA president Michel Platini is expected to confirm tomorrow the details of his plans to open up the Champions League to wider competition, specifically by giving domestic cup winners an opportunity to make it into the 32-team group phase.
It is understood that his plans would have 16 cup winners from Europe's leading countries in a qualifying competition for four places in the group stage of the Champions League. This qualifying event would be run in parallel to a qualifying competition based on domestic league positions for 12 other places, to join the 16 teams who qualify automatically.
Platini will unveil his proposals to the new Professional Football Strategy Council in Monaco tomorrow. The body is made up of representatives from UEFA, the European leagues, the clubs and the players' unions but is a consultative body so even if - as is likely - there is some fierce opposition from the leagues, they cannot veto the plans.
The ideas will then go forward to UEFA's executive committee meeting in Istanbul on September 27 for a decision.
UEFA general secretary David Taylor said: 'The competition is the ultimate stage for European club football and we are looking at the access list arrangements to see if we can improve the qualifying routes which might allow the opportunity to broaden the geographic spread of this competition.
'We are having a big discussion about this at the Professional Football strategy board tomorrow. The idea is that winners qualify for competitions and that's a good principle.'
Taylor also made it clear that only cup winners would be allowed to enter the Champions League qualifying process - currently runners-up can go into the UEFA Cup if the winners have already qualified through their league.
Under the proposals, if as happened in England last season when Chelsea were FA Cup winners and had already qualified automatically then the fourth-placed side - in this case Arsenal - would have to try to qualify through the `cup route'.
Platini is aware that there is going to be substantial opposition to change but believes his plans are a compromise - the big countries of England, Spain and Italy would keep four qualifying spots but there would be a broader spectrum of clubs both from inside those countries and in the smaller countries of Europe represented in the competition.
Celtic, if they see off Spartak Moscow tonight, are set to be among the third seeds in the draw with Glasgow Rangers among the fourth seeds - unless both Celtic and Steaua Bucharest go out.
Platini's proposals would also see changes in Scotland with the champions and cup winners given qualifying places rather than the top two in the league.