Champions League: The roads to Wembley and San Mames

Thursday 29 June 2023 08:00

For the very first time, both of Manchester United's senior teams - men and women - will be competing in the UEFA Champions League in the same season.

Erik ten Hag's squad claimed a berth in the tournament by finishing third in the Premier League last term, while Marc Skinner’s side earned a maiden appearance at Europe's top table as runners-up in the Women’s Super League. 

The men’s final is set to be held at Wembley, and the long road to London has already started for a handful of clubs taking part in the preliminary qualifiers.

Later this week, the draw for the women's first qualifying round will take place as participants begin to dream of playing in the final at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao.

With these landmark dates in mind, here are the key things you need to know about both editions of the Champions League in 2023/24… 


The men’s Champions League began this week in Kopavogur, a small western town of Iceland, where the preliminary round is being staged. The winners of Tuesday's semi-finals - local club Breidablik and Budućnost Podgorica, from Montenegro - will meet in Friday's final after their 7-1 and 3-0 victories over Tre Penne (San Marino) and Atletic Club d'Escaldes (Andorra) respectively.

The first qualifying round will be played in July; the losing sides will exit at this stage but still remain in Europe, turning their attentions to the Conference League. 

The qualifying competition will continue through its second and third rounds until there are 12 teams left to contest play-off ties during the last two weeks of August. The losers of these will drop into the Europa League, while the six winners advance to the group stage and discover their fixtures in the draw on 31 August.

They will join the following 26 clubs who have already put their names in the hat, with the total of 32 teams then being divided into eight groups of four for the last time in the competition's current format: 

Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic, Feyenoord, Internazionale, Lazio, RB Leipzig, Lens, Manchester City, Manchester United, Milan, Napoli, Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Red Star Belgrade, RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, Union Berlin.

Here are the key dates for the men's Champions League, from the point we will enter it:

Group stages: 19/20 September 2023 - 12/13 December 2023
Round of 16: 13/14 and 20/21 Feburary; 5/6 and 12/13 March 
Quarter-finals: 9/10 and 16/17 April
Semi-finals: 30 April/1 May; 7/8 May 
Final: 1 June 2024

The final will be held at Wembley for the first time since 2013 and the eighth occasion overall, including three in the Champions League era.

AC Milan were the first team to win the European Cup at England's national stadium, in 1963. Five years later, United became the first English side to lift the trophy anywhere, thanks to a thrilling 4-1 extra-time victory over Benfica at Wembley.

The other clubs who have triumphed in European Cup finals there are Ajax (1971), Liverpool (1978), Barcelona (1992, 2011 v United) and Bayern Munich, who are the most recent winners under the famous arch after overcoming German rivals Borussia Dortmund in a tense 2-1 decider 10 years ago.

United will make our Women's Champions League debut in 2023/24.

For the first time ever, United Women will play European football, having qualified for the 2023/24 Champions League by finishing second in the Women's Super League, marginally behind title-winners Chelsea. 

The women’s edition of this competition has 16 clubs in the group stage, as opposed to 32 in the men’s variant. Three teams from the highest-ranked associations (France, Germany, and Spain) are all guaranteed a spot in the groups by winning their domestic divisions.

As the Champions League holders, Barcelona, are from one of Europe's top three leagues, a club from the fourth-ranked nation will also go straight into the group stage this season. In this case, it's Chelsea, representing England. Bayern Munich and Lyon also have automatic places, after winning the German and French titles respectively. 

The other 12 entrants will be decided over two qualifying rounds, the first of which will be drawn this coming Friday 30 June. Round one qualifiers will be played as four-team knockout mini-tournaments, with the final winners progressing into round two in early September.
Lucia Garcia's late winner against Manchester City guaranteed us a place in the UCL for 23/24.
Round two is where United come in, with a two-legged knockout tie standing between us and a place in the groups. We’ll find out who our opponents are when the draw takes place on 15 September, with the likes of VfL Wolfsburg, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain among the other clubs who are automatically in the hat.

Here are the key dates for the upcoming campaign… 

Round one semi-finals: 6 September
Round one final and third-place play-off: 9 September 
Round two: 10/11 October; 18/19 October
Group stage: 14/15 September - 30/31 January 
Quarter-finals: 19/20 March; 27/28 March 
Semi-finals: 20/21 April; 27/28 April
Final: 24/25/26 May 2024 - to be confirmed 

The final of the competition will be held in Spain, at the home of Athletic Bilbao: San Mames Stadium. Last year’s showpiece was held in Eindhoven, where Barcelona pulled off a dramatic comeback after being 2-0 down to VfL Wolfsburg to win 3-2 and lift their second Champions League trophy.