Welcome to another installment of Bundesliga 101. For more background on this series of posts, please see Bundesliga 101: An Introduction.
The UEFA Champions League is probably the world’s most-widely followed club-football competition. After the championship, a spot in Champions League is the most-desired result of a Bundesliga season.
In fact, the additional revenue streams from competing in Champions League really make for an interesting dynamic among teams capable of finishing near the top of the Bundesliga table. Because the top three finishers are assured a spot in the lucrative competition, clubs not named “FC Bayern” are more likely to discuss a top-three finish as their season goal than they are to talk of championship aspirations.
Due to the relative strength of the Bundesliga, it is among three leagues (England and Spain being home to the other two) with four spots reserved in the competition. In addition to the spots given the top three league finishers, all of which enter the competition at the “group stage,” a fourth German club can earn a group slot by winning a two-match playoff with another aspirant.
Once the qualification rounds are settled, Champions League is left with 32 clubs, which are seeded and divided into eight groups by a mostly blind draw, with clubs coming from the same country not eligible to be drawn into the same group.
The group stage of the competition is played in the fall, coinciding roughly with the first leg of the Bundesliga (a.k.a. the Hinrunde), with matches contested on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Each team plays the other three clubs in its group twice, once at home and once away. A group-stage victory is worth three points to the winner. Draws earn a single point for each side. Losses, of course, get nothing.
At the conclusion of the group stage, the top two finishers in each group advance to the knockout stage, which usually starts at the tail-end of winter and plays out along the same timeline as the second leg of the Bundesliga (a.k.a. the Rückrunde). The first three rounds of the knockout stages are two-match fixtures, with each competing side hosting one. The victor is determined by aggregated scores between the two matches. When needed, the away-goals rule is employed to break a deadlock. Should away goals not yield a result, the second leg of the fixture can extend into extra time and, barring a resolution in the added time, end in penalty shootout.
The Champions League final is a single game, which is hosted in a predetermined location, rather than by one of the competing sides.