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What tie-breaker is used if teams finish level on points in the UEFA Champions League group stage?

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The group stage of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League is nearing its conclusion, with some teams, including Real Madrid, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, having sealed their places in the round of 16 on matchday four, while several others have the opportunity to do so on matchday five.

Groups D and G already have nothing riding on them in terms of qualification, although we still need to see whether Real Sociedad or Inter tops the former and which of City and RB Leipzig finish first in the latter.

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What happens when teams finish level on points?

There are plenty of close battles elsewhere, however, with just three points separating first-placed Borussia Dortmund and fourth-placed Newcastle United in Group F, aka the “Group of Death”, while Barcelona could do with avoiding any more slip-ups to avoid surrendering top spot in Group H.

With that in mind, there is more than a realistic chance of a number of teams ending matchdays five and six with the same number of points. Were that to happen, the head-to-head record between the teams in question would be used as the first tie-breaker, a change from overall goal difference, which has been used for the majority of the competition’s history.

Head-to-head record could see more teams qualify on matchday five

That could lead to an increase in the number of teams qualifying for the round of 16 on matchday five, with some matchday six results potentially rendered meaningless. For instance, PSV Eindhoven will move onto eight points in Group B if they defeat Sevilla on Tuesday, while Lens will remain on five if they lose to Arsenal. Although both teams could still finish on eight, those two results would send the Dutch side through with a game to spare as they have taken four points from their two fixtures against the French outfit, who have claimed only one.

If, on the other hand, PSV lose in Spain (remaining on five points) and Lens win at the Emirates (moving onto eight), the Ligue 1 club will still need a point on matchday six to be completely sure of progressing.

If more than two teams are tied on overall points in the group, then the total number of points amassed from matches between the teams in question is taken into consideration.

What is the full list of tie-breakers used in the UCL group stage?

Goal difference in the group is now the second tie-breaker, followed by the total number of goals scored.

The full list of tie-breakers, as stated by UEFA, is the following:

UEFA Champions League group stage tie-breakers

  1. higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question;
  2. superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question;
  3. higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question;
  4. if, after having applied criteria 1) to 3), teams still have an equal ranking, criteria 1) to 3) are reapplied exclusively to the matches between the remaining teams to determine their final rankings. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria 5) to 11) apply in the order given to the two or more teams still equal;
  5. superior goal difference in all group matches;
  6. higher number of goals scored in all group matches;
  7. higher number of away goals scored in all group matches;
  8. higher number of wins in all group matches;
  9. higher number of away wins in all group matches;
  10. lower disciplinary points total based only on yellow and red cards received by players and team officials in all group matches (red card = 3 points, yellow card = 1 point, expulsion for two yellow cards in one match = 3 points);
  11. higher club coefficient.

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