The Women’s Champions League will feature a group stage for the last 16 from 2021-22 season onwards, Europe’s governing body Uefa has confirmed.
The format change means three English teams will take part in the competition – an increase on two existing places.
The top six countries by ranking will all receive three qualification spots.
Since 2009, the competition has used groups in the qualifying rounds but, from the last 32 onwards, has seen a two-leg, knockout format.
The new format will see four groups of four in the last-16 stage, with teams playing each other home and away before the top two sides in each group qualify for the quarter-finals.
Some clubs will have to progress through two rounds to reach that group stage, depending on where they finish domestically, but the champions from the top three rated divisions in Europe – including the WSL – would progress straight to the last 16.
The format for the 2020-21 campaign will remain the same as the existing structure, which has seen Arsenal and Scottish champions Glasgow City progress to March’s quarter-finals.
Speaking in November, Gunners boss Joe Montemurro said: “In the Champions League, in my opinion, you want to see a lot of the top teams playing against each other more regularly.
“We want the top three teams from England competing in the Champions League. We want the big games. We want the top three teams from France to be there, to showcase the level of the game and how fantastic the women’s game is at the moment.”
Scotland lost a qualification spot for next season after dropping to 14th in the rankings.
But, under the new format, the country’s second spot would be restored for 2021-22 if Scotland remains in the top 16 nations.
Wales and Northern Ireland would be set to continue having one club – their domestic champions – entering the qualifying rounds.
‘The time is right’
Announcing the changes on Wednesday, Uefa said the move was “designed to boost competitiveness and increase exposure of women’s club football”.
Director of competitions Giorgio Marchetti added: “There is a clear increase of interest in the women’s game. We see it from everywhere.
“It’s been a long process. The talks about changing the format and creating a group stage started several years ago. We pushed it back because we felt the conditions were not yet met.
“But now we see that, with the investment of Uefa and the investment of the national associations and the investment of the clubs, the game is growing. Certainly, there is more interest also from the market and the media.
“So we think the time is right to do for women what we did for men many years ago.”
Will the changes mean more competitive games?
This season has seen a large proportion of the knockout ties in the last 32 and last 16 won by huge aggregate margins.
Holders Lyon beat Russian club Ryazan VDV 16-0 on aggregate and German side Wolfsburg defeated Mitrovica 15-0, while Manchester City were 11-1 winners over Lugano of Switzerland.
But City – England’s domestic league runners-up last term – were knocked out by Atletico Madrid after the Spanish league champions had been unseeded for the last-16 draw.
In the same round, Arsenal were 13-2 aggregate winners over Czech Republic outfit Slavia Prague and those are the kind of scorelines that Uefa hope will become less frequent after the changes come into force.
BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.
Article courtesy of BBC Sport