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HomeChampions LeagueFive surprise teams who will play Champions League football next season

Five surprise teams who will play Champions League football next season

The UEFA Champions League returns bigger than ever next season as 2024-25 brings a new and expanded format to club football’s biggest competition.

The new format will not be the only thing different about next season’s competition, however, following several surprise qualifiers across Europe’s top leagues.

There will be no shortage of Champions League debutants in 2024-25 and we’ve looked at five surprise teams set to compete next season

Aston Villa

Unai Emery’s transformative impact at Aston Villa has culminated in Champions League qualification, with the Midlands outfit set to compete on Europe’s biggest stage for the first time in 42 years.

Villa fans proudly celebrate their status as one of the six English sides to have been crowned European champions, but this will be the first time in the Champions League era.

A top-four finish in the Premier League was well-deserved for a team who have been on a steep upward trajectory under Emery, and Villa will take to the Champions League with one of the most respected coaches in European football. The Spaniard is a record four-time winner of the Europa League and took Villarreal to the Champions League semi-finals in 2021-22.

For many of the squad, it will be the first time competing on this stage with the likes of John McGinn and Ollie Watkins having begun their careers in the more modest surroundings of St Mirren and Exeter City. The latter will be aiming to build on a career-best campaign, in which he scored 28 goals in all competitions and led the Premier League for assists (13).


Bologna have upset the odds to qualify for UEFA’s top club competition for the first time since their last Serie A title win in 1964.

Thiago Motta’s side confirmed their Champions League place with two games to spare, with a top-five finish in Serie A enough for participation this season due to Italy’s co-efficient.

It has been an astonishing achievement for Bologna, who before this season had not finished in the top five of Serie A in 53 years and were a second-tier side as recently as 2014-15. The feat has been achieved despite modest resources in comparison to Italy’s heavyweight sides, with Bologna’s budget the 15th-lowest in Serie A.

Motta has brought the best from underperforming or underappreciated assets, with Riccardo Orsolini producing the best campaign of his career and Joshua Zirkzee’s goalscoring feats attracting interest from top clubs across Europe. Elsewhere, Riccardo Calafiori has been a revelation since signing from Basel and moving into a central defensive role.

Bologna, however, are set to lose the man who made it happen. Juventus are understood to be nearing an agreement to appoint Motta as their head coach.


Brest have been the surprise package of the Ligue 1 season and have earned a place in the Champions League next season.

Éric Roy’s side had never previously finished above eighth in France’s top division or competed in European competition, but a top-three finish in Ligue 1 has booked their passage to the Champions League.

Promoted back into the top division in 2018-19, Brest have finished in the division’s bottom half in each of their campaigns since returning to Ligue 1, including a 14th-placed finish in 2022-23.

Romain Del Castillo was the star of the club’s unexpected season of success, with eight goals and eight assists. The winger led Ligue 1 for crosses and ranked second for chances created, behind Montpellier’s Teji Savanier.


Girona have spent just four seasons in the top division of Spanish football in their entire 94-year history. Next season, the Catalan club will compete alongside compatriots Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Girona’s stunning season saw Michel’s side threaten to win La Liga, losing just one of their opening 22 games to take the lead in the title race. The Blanquivermells earned home and away wins over Barcelona in an incredible campaign, one that saw breakout seasons from summer signing Artem Dovbyk, who scored 21 league goals, Savio, and Miguel Gutierrez among others.

The Spaniards are expected to receive clearance to compete in the Champions League, despite UEFA’s rules over multi-club ownership models. Part-owned by City Football Group, it has raised potential conflict with Manchester City also in next season’s tournament. However, Girona will look to outline their organisational independence from the Premier League side, with other examples – including Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig – having previously been cleared to play.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be keeping the core of their side together. Savio, on loan from Troyes, will sign for Manchester City, while Bayer Leverkusen are pushing for a deal to sign influential midfielder Aleix Garcia. There will also be interest in Gutierrez, Dovbyk and
Viktor Tsyhankov.

Sturm Graz

Austrian football has been all too predictable across the last decade. The success and resources of Red Bull Salzburg has seen the energy-drink-owned behemoth win 10 straight titles between 2014 and 2023.

Salzburg’s domestic dominance has come to an end this season, however, with Sturm Graz snatching the title. It’s just a fourth-ever Austrian Bundesliga for Sturm Graz, who return to the Champions League for the first time since three consecutive appearances between 1999 and 2001.

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The division’s best defensive record helped Die Schwoazn topple Salzburg in the title race and earned Christian Ilzer’s side a place in the group stage. Salzburg will have to go through the play-offs in their bid to reach the competition proper.

Read – Five Championship players primed for Premier League transfers

See more – Six breakout stars from the 2023-24 European season

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