English Premier League's Race for the Fifth Champions League Spot
The new format of the Champions League, starting from the 2024-25 season, will provide space for more clubs, allowing the English Premier League's fifth-place team the chance to earn some unexpected riches. However, in order to secure the additional spot, the eight English clubs currently participating in UEFA competitions need to maintain their superiority against their continental opponents.
In the analysis by Sports Journal, they delve into who has the potential to challenge the Premier League's claim to the fifth Champions League spot.
What will change in the 2024-25 Champions League season?
Currently, 32 clubs participate in the Champions League group stage, divided into 8 groups of 4 teams. Under the new format, there will be 36 teams, and a Swiss system will automatically promote the top eight ranked teams to the round of 16. The remaining 16 teams will compete in two-legged playoffs for the remaining eight spots. This restructuring will increase the total number of Champions League matches from the current 125 to 189 per season, and the key is which four clubs can join the competition.
In addition to the traditional ways of securing a Champions League spot through domestic league rankings or winning the Champions League or Europa League, there are four additional spots up for grabs. One goes to the country ranked fifth in the UEFA Association rankings (currently France) for a place in the qualifying rounds, while one goes to the qualifying rounds entrants. The other two are awarded to the leagues that finished in the top two in the previous season's European competition points ranking (one each).
The latter is what UEFA calls "Performance Rewards," meaning that securing the fifth place in the Premier League (or Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga) this season is enough to qualify for the 2024-25 Champions League.
And here's where it gets a bit complicated (and intriguing).
Every season, UEFA member associations calculate points based on their club's performance and scoring rules. The accumulated total points divided by the number of participating teams gives the country's European competition points for the season, and the top two-ranked countries receive additional Champions League spots.
A win in the Champions League earns a team 2 points, a draw gets 1 point, and a loss gets 0 points. A team also earns 4 points for qualifying for the group stage and additional points for progressing to the knockout stage. For example, Manchester City earned 33 points when they won the title last season.
However, a country's European competition points are calculated based on the average performance of its clubs. This includes the Europa League and Europa Conference League, although these competitions have fewer points on offer (lacking progression points). If most of a country's clubs in European competition perform poorly, a single club winning the Champions League wouldn't be enough to improve the European competition points.
UEFA traditionally calculates a country's five-year European competition points. For example, the Eredivisie's single-season points in the 2021-22 season were higher than La Liga's, but they still lagged significantly behind the top four over the past five years. Therefore, England, Spain, Germany, and Italy received four Champions League spots as a reward for their clubs' achievements over the previous five seasons.
From the 2024-25 season and onwards, the top four will continue to enjoy these privileges, but the reward spots will only consider one season's achievements. So, can the fifth-place team in the Premier League participate in the 2024-25 Champions League?
We cannot answer that, as only the results in the coming weeks or months will tell us. But one thing is certain: there is a strong possibility. According to UEFA data, in six out of the past seven seasons, English clubs have ranked in the top two in European competition points, only narrowly falling behind Spain and Germany in the 2019-20 season.
The fate of the eight clubs currently participating in European competition - Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, West Ham, Liverpool, Brighton, and Aston Villa - will be the decisive factor. If Manchester City can defend their Champions League title, and an English club wins either the Europa League or Europa Conference League, just like West Ham did last season, then the fifth spot can be safely secured.
However, any success can be thwarted by the failure of other teams. If Liverpool, Brighton, West Ham, or Villa fail to progress from the group stage or are eliminated in the knockout stage, the points for England would correspondingly decrease. If Manchester United or Newcastle - potentially both - finish bottom of their groups and fail to even reach the Europa League playoffs, they would not be able to earn any points.
In Group F, where Newcastle is located, if their group opponents AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund continue to earn points, it will ultimately affect the Premier League's points as Italy and Germany are usually direct competitors to England. This brings us into a new era where one club awaits the final results of European competition to determine whether they will participate in the Champions League next season. Could Manchester United's qualification next season depend on Manchester City or Liverpool reaching the European final? It's not impossible, but the league standings are fundamental.
Who could the English Premier League lose to?It is still too early to discuss this, but other countries have performed exceptionally well in European competition this season. Italian clubs have impressed in the Champions League, with AC Milan defeating Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, boosting the chances of four Serie A clubs progressing to the Round of 16. Atalanta, Roma, and Fiorentina also have good chances of progressing in the Europa League and Europa Conference League.After