The race to qualify for European football is heating up. But how can teams qualify and who can make it?
Who is in the mix?
Pending the outcome of Manchester City’s appeal against a UEFA ban, those who finish in the Premier League’s top eight could secure a place in Europe next season…
Brendan Rodgers’ side secured their first win since the Premier League restart against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Based on their third-placed league position, they are the best-placed team to qualify for the Champions League. Having rediscovered their winning touch, they will hope that continues with games against European rivals Sheffield United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United to come.
The Blues had hit a purple patch of form and been unbeaten in six games in all competitions either side of the football suspension but a surprise defeat at West Ham meant they simply had to beat Watford – which they duly did on Saturday to retain fourth spot.
They have a decent run of Premier League fixtures and are also in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, playing Manchester United in July. Chelsea do have the Champions League route too, with a last-16 tie against Bayern Munich to complete, although they did lose the first leg 3-0 at Stamford Bridge in February.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have the easiest Premier League run of the European contenders, mostly playing teams in the bottom half with only Leicester on the final day placed above them. They have two other routes to Europe too, with an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea and the Europa League where they are in pole position against Linz ASK in the last 16 after a 5-0 away victory in the first leg.
It’s not the easiest of Premier League run-ins for Wolves with Sheffield United among the fixtures plus a final day trip to Chelsea that could end up being a straight shootout for a Champions League place. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side had been impressive since the restart – winning and keeping clean sheets in all of their opening three games – but their progress was checked last time out following a 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal.
They are still in Europa League contention, however, with a home tie against Olympiakos to come following a 1-1 away draw in the first leg.
This season’s surprise package, Sheffield United had a tough return to football but a much-needed win over Tottenham and a hard-fought point at Burnley has reignited their European dreams. Their remaining fixtures include Wolves, Leicester and Chelsea, so there is a chance to reel in the teams above them.
After a rocky restart, the Gunners have won their last four games in all competitions as their hunt for a European place goes on. They remain six points off fifth with Liverpool, Leicester and Tottenham still to play. They are still in the FA Cup route and were drawn with Man City in the semi-finals, who recently beat Arsenal 3-0 in their first game back.
Spurs are 10 points from fifth place ahead of their game with Everton on Monday, but seventh has been enough to secure a Europa League place in the last five seasons and could take them even further this season. The Premier League will be their only route into Europe, having already been knocked out of the Champions League by RB Leipzig, and have Sheffield United, Everton, Arsenal and Leicester to come.
Burnley moved above Tottenham into ninth after earning a point against Sheffield United following back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Watford, while consecutive wins for Everton has improved their outlook too, with the Toffees just four points behind eighth with a game in hand and a possible route into the Europa League.
What are the next set of fixtures?
With some intriguing fixtures coming up this week, the pursuit of qualifying places could be given a shake-up. Tottenham and Everton look to boost their European hopes in their Monday Night Football clash (8pm).
There is then an intriguing set of midweek fixtures, as Crystal Palace host Chelsea on Tuesday (6pm) before Leicester travel to face Arsenal (8.15pm).
On Wednesday, Sheffield United take on Wolves at Bramall Lane (6pm) while on Thursday, Tottenham go to Bournemouth (6pm) and Manchester United visit Aston Villa (8.15pm).
How European qualifying works…
Two teams have already booked their place in European competitions or their qualifying rounds – Liverpool as Premier League winners and Manchester City as Carabao Cup winners, pending the outcome of their CAS appeal – but there is still plenty of competition for places.
Here’s how qualification works for the Champions League and Europa League, why the FA Cup and Carabao Cup matter and how Man City’s two-year ban from European competition could further change the picture.
Champions League Qualification
In a regular season, the top four teams in the Premier League qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.
Next season is set to look very different, however.
With City set to be absent from European competition for the next two seasons, pending the outcome of their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, finishing fifth could be enough to secure a place in the Champions League next season, given Pep Guardiola’s side are almost certain to finish in the top four.
Winning the Champions League or Europa League also guarantees a place in the group stages, with Liverpool and Chelsea having done so last season. Despite mixed results in the first legs of their knockout ties, Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves are still in the hunt in those competitions.
Holders Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid just before the suspension of football, but have already booked their place in next season’s competition as Premier League champions.
Europa League Qualification
There are three ways to qualify for the Europa League:
- Finish fifth (or sixth if City’s ban is upheld) – qualify for the Europa League group stage
- Win the FA Cup – qualify for the Europa League group stage
- Win the Carabao Cup – qualify for the Europa League second qualifying round
If the winners of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finish fifth or higher in the Premier League, their Europa League spots go to the next-highest ranked team not qualified for UEFA competitions in the Premier League.
For example, last season, Manchester City won both cups and the Premier League. Therefore, their spot in the group stage from the FA Cup victory was given to Manchester United – who finished in sixth – and seventh place Wolves entered into the second qualifying round.
Manchester City’s Carabao Cup win this term is good news for the European-football chasers. Because they’re set to finish in the top five, their place in the second qualifying round of the Europa League transfers to the next highest-placed side. If City’s appeal is successful, this would be sixth but if not it will be the side that finishes seventh in 2019/20.
The FA Cup is down to the final four – Man City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal – and fans of European hopefuls should follow the action there closely, too.
Should City or a team in the top five also win the FA Cup, and City’s ban is upheld, the Europa League second-round qualifying spot will drop to the team who finishes eighth – with the sixth-placed team taking the second available group stage place.
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Why Fourth Or Fifth May Not Guarantee A Champions League Place…
So what happens if, like last season, the winners of the Champions League and Europa League come from England and both those winning clubs finish outside of the top four (or top five if City are banned)?
In that case, which is increasingly unlikely given City’s position in the league table, then finishing in the lowest-ranked Champions League qualifying place would drop into the Europa League as the winning of a European competition taking precedence over a league finish.
Were, for example, Wolves to win the Europa League and Chelsea the Champions League – with neither finishing inside the top four or five, the side finishing fourth or fifth (depending on City’s appeal) would miss out on playing in the elite club competition next season.
Who Has Already Qualified?
Champions League – Liverpool