What will happen if Liverpool wins the Champions League and finish outside the Top Four? Can five Premier League teams play in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League?
Recently UEFA announced that starting from the 2018/19 season, the top four clubs from each of UEFA’s top four associations will automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stages. It’s a rule that was vehemently opposed by the French football association and Ligue 1.
However, UEFA stood her ground amidst a number of protests and insisted that the criterium used in the grading system is justified when you take into consideration the huge gulf in quality between top teams in Europe and Champions of the smaller associations in the continent.
It is a rule that came into force amidst a number of protests – especially from France’s Ligue 1 – but UEFA felt it was a justified move considering the gulf in quality when you compare top sides in Europe to champions of the smaller associations in the continent.
The truth is that fans would rather see a fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League rather than the league Champions of Malta or Armenia, evidently, the difference in quality is so wide that we all just have to agree with UEFA’s argument in this case.
The top four European associations – Spain (La Liga), Germany (Bundesliga), England (Premier League), and Italy (Serie A) – have very high coefficients and the four top teams from these leagues will automatically qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.
The Champions League winners and Europa League winners according to the new rules will also get an automatic berth in the group stages of the Champions League, so more than four teams can qualify from a single country and maximum five.
This means that if Liverpool wins the Champions League and fails to finish in the top-four of the Premier League, then five teams will represent England in the group stages of the Champions League and the five teams will be the top-four clubs in the league and the Champions League winners which we have assumed to be Liverpool.
The battle for Premier League top four spots is heading for a grand style finish on the final day of the season, Liverpool is currently above Chelsea with two points in fourth place, Tottenham Hotspurs has sealed a top-four spot with the win against Newcastle United on Wednesday.
On the final day of the 2017/18 season, Chelsea will play away to Newcastle and Liverpool will entertain Brighton at Anfield needing just a draw to secure a fourth-place finish in the league, this is due to the huge goals difference between the Reds and Chelsea, Liverpool will certainly edge fourth place if they finish level on points with the Blues.
Unfavourable results on the final day of the season could leave Liverpool in fifth place and out of the top four, which will mean that the only way for them to play in the Champions League next season would be to win the final in Kiev against Real Madrid.
What if two clubs from the same country among any of the top four UEFA associations win the Champions League and Europa League?
If the above scenario plays out, lets say for example Atletico Madrid wins the Europa League and Real Madrid wins the Champions League, and assuming both finishes outside the top four in the Spanish La Liga, according to the UEFA rule both Champions League and Europa League winners will qualify to play in the group stages of the Champions League but the fourth-placed team in the league would have to sacrifice its Champions League spot. Remember “An association may have a maximum of five teams in the group stage”.
Recall back in the 2011/12 season, Chelsea had finished sixth in the Premier League. But they surprised everyone by reaching the Champions League final and beating Bayern Munich to lift the trophy.
As a result, they automatically qualified for the Champions League group stages and fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur was pushed down to the Europa League. This was because as at the time, only four clubs from the Premier League could qualify for the Champions League, but this time the rules have changed and it is five.
The rule that allowed Europa League winners to enter the Champions League competition may be of benefit to a French club next season. Olympique Marseille is currently fourth in Ligue 1 and will likely miss out from the top three spot which is allotted to French clubs in the Champions League.
However, if Marseille wins the Europa League, then they will automatically qualify for the Champions League, which means France might have four clubs in the Champions League next season.
The idea to allow winners of the Europa League automatic berth into the group stages of the Champions league was a move that had the sole aim of making the second-tier European club competition relevant and it was taken due advantage of by the likes of Sevilla (2014/15 and 2015/16) and Manchester United (2016/17).