There were some recent changes in the competition structure of the UEFA Champions League that is good news for the big four leagues of Spain (1), Germany (2), England (3) and Italy (4). From next season (2018/19) all four leagues will have a guaranteed four places in the Group Stage of the competition.
Fans of the Premier League will be familiar with the 4th placed team having to navigate, a sometimes tricky, play-off round at the start of each new season. For example, this season Liverpool had to overcome German club Hoffenheim in a two-leg playoff in August before entering the group stages.
Since 2009-10 this route has been more difficult than before, as clubs from the bigger leagues must go down the "League Path" to qualify. This is different to the "Champions Path". The Champions Path is for clubs that win their respective leagues but do not automatically qualify for the Group Stages. By definition these are weaker clubs from weaker leagues, but have the advantage of playing one another in order to qualify. This is largely the reasons clubs from Cyprus, Hungary and Slovakia have reached the last 32 of the competition.
However, the new competition structure is reducing the number of teams that can qualify from the Champions Path from 5 to 4. This is particularly bad news for League of Ireland clubs. The last 32 of the competition continues to remains elusive for clubs on this island (both North and South) and despite some near misses (Shelbourne and Dundalk) next years' competition will be even harder to get to.
The new rules are also bad news for UEFA leagues ranked 11 and 12 (currently Czech rep and Switzerland) as the champions of both leagues, normally guaranteed qualification to the last 32, will now need to come through a play-off.
It seems as if the bigger leagues are fighting back, and concessions made in 2009/10 are in reverse somewhat. As David pointed out last September there is clear balance issues with the Champions route.