HomeSportsWest Ham boost England's chance of fifth Champions League spot

West Ham boost England’s chance of fifth Champions League spot

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Manchester City are the holders of the Champions League

The Premier League seems likely to pick up a fifth Champions League spot next season thanks to West Ham’s victory over Freiburg in the Europa League last 16.

Aston Villa and Tottenham now seem more likely to book a Champions League spot, while further down the table Brighton, Wolves, Newcastle and Chelsea have renewed hope of a European place – with eighth place set to be enough.

The Hammers’ win could turn out to be the key in deciding which country gets one of Uefa’s coveted new European performance spots and an extra place in Europe.

How is the Champions League format changing?

Since 2003-04, the group phase has involved eight groups, each containing four clubs, with each team playing the other three home and away and the top two advancing to the knockout phase.

Next year, there will be 36 clubs competing in what is known as a ‘Swiss’ format, with teams playing eight matches against eight different opponents, with four home games and four away.

The top eight clubs will progress straight into the last 16, with those from ninth to 24th meeting in two-leg play-offs and the winners advancing.

How are the extra places decided?

The Champions League has four new places to fill because of its expansion.

Two extra places will go to the best-performing leagues in Europe this season. Realistically, the additional places will go to two nations out of Germany, Italy, Spain and England.

This means the team who finish fifth in the Premier League this season could automatically qualify for the Champions League.

Uefa’s association coefficient rankings – based on the results of all European clubs in Uefa competitions – decide which two leagues will benefit from the additional places.

Every win by a club from a nation is worth two points and a draw is worth one point.

Bonus points are then accrued by progressing through various stages of each competition, with it weighted in favour of teams performing well in the Champions League, then the Europa League and then the Europa Conference League.

All points earned by clubs from each country are added up before being divided by the number of teams from that nation in Europe – eight in the Premier League’s case.

Additionally, one place will go to the third-placed team in the domestic league ranked fifth in the Uefa coefficient – currently France.

The last of the extra spots will go to the qualifying path for champions. Four teams used to come through this route into the group phase, but from next season it will be five. The place cannot go to a team from the top 10 leagues as their champions do not go through qualifying.

How the rankings stand at the moment

At the start of this week’s round of European fixtures, Italy and Germany occupied the top two slots, with England in third.

But Arsenal in the Champions League, Liverpool and West Ham in the Europa League and Aston Villa in the Europa Conference League all went through to the quarter-finals.

Only Brighton, who were never expected to go through after a 4-0 first-leg loss to Roma, went out.

Including Manchester City, England have five teams still in Europe to Italy’s four and Germany’s three.

Borussia Dortmund, in the Champions League, and Europa League side Bayer Leverkusen both went through, but Freiburg’s exit could prove costly.

Italy’s two Champions League teams this week, Napoli and Inter Milan, were eliminated – but AC Milan, Atalanta, Roma and Fiorentina all progressed on Thursday.

England’s points are divided by eight, instead of seven, because that is the amount of Premier League teams in Europe as a result of West Ham qualifying for the Europa League by winning the Europa Conference League.

What would an extra Champions League spot mean for the rest of the Premier League?

The impact of a European performance spot would ripple down the Premier League.

Firstly, the spot would go to the team finishing fifth in the table, below clubs who had already qualified for the Champions League. If the table stayed as it is, that would be Tottenham.

But it also opens up other European spots. So the two Europa League places would go to the FA Cup winners – if they had not qualified for the Champions League – and the sixth-placed Premier League team (or the sixth and seventh Premier League teams, if the FA Cup winners have reached the Champions League).

On that same FA Cup-contingent basis, the Europa Conference League qualifiers would be the seventh/eighth-placed Premier League team. If West Ham won the Europa League, they would go into the Champions League, so the qualification would move even further down the table.

The same is also true of Aston Villa, who would go into the Europa League if they won the Europa Conference League – although their place would not be re-allocated if they had already qualified for the Europa League through their league position.

It is possible – though highly unlikely – England could have 11 teams in European competition next season. They would be the usual seven spots, plus an extra Champions League place and the winners of all three European competitions (if they finished outside a European position).

But just by taking a European performance spot, the battle for fifth – and eighth – would have renewed meaning.

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