Who will qualify for the Europa League? The Big Picture

Who will qualify for the Europa League?

It’s not just the top or even the bottom of the Premier League that is exercising the minds of statisticians and maths boffins everywhere. The complicated question of who will qualify for the Europa League next season is keeping them awake at night too! We assess the possibilities.

Who will qualify for the Europa League in England this year? Well, that’s a complicated question. There is no simple answer yet – the goalposts keep moving! The only certainty is that a maximum of seven clubs only from each association can play in Europe each season.

In normal circumstances, English clubs are awarded three Europa League places based upon certain criteria. First and foremost is the team that finishes fifth in the Premier League followed by the winners of the FA Cup. Both of these clubs go directly into the group stages of the tournament. The final place is awarded to the winners of the League Cup. In this case that’s Manchester United, who ordinarily would go into the third qualifying round of the competition. Dead simple, really!


Now, that all sounds pretty straightforward. But it’s not – here's where it gets complicated again! The above criteria for qualification are changed if, for instance, the winners of the FA Cup finish in the top five of the Premier League. In that case, their Europa League place will go to the next-best Premier League finisher who is not already qualified for Europe via some other means. League leaders and certain Champions League qualifiers Chelsea take on Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley later this month. The Gunners are currently sixth in the table, two points behind Manchester United, but with a game in hand.

Another way qualification might be affected is if the winners of the League Cup finish in the top five of the Premier League or, if the winners of the FA Cup have finished in the top five as laid out above, the top six. In that case a place in the third qualifying round of the Europa League goes to the sixth or seventh-placed team in the Premier League. Now, the winners of the League Cup this year were Manchester United who beat Southampton 2-1 in the final back in March. As mentioned above, United are currently fifth in the table which means that the team in sixth, or possibly, seventh in the Premier League will be in Europe next season. Indeed, given that Arsenal are guaranteed a top-six finish, that guarantees that seventh place will be enough to qualify.

It’s all a bit messy, isn’t it? So much for settling for mid-table mediocrity, having nothing to play for from April onwards and getting your two weeks on the chairman’s yacht booked when the last of the Easter eggs are still in the shops. Not any more, I’m afraid! Not only that, but you face the prospect of having your summer cut short as well. No chance of hanging with Little Mix in Ibiza then? Back training like a slave from mid-June onwards - it’s a hard-knock life for the modern professional footballer!

Where are we now?

So, where does that leave the Europa League roster for next season as regards the English clubs? With United having won the League Cup and the FA Cup to be decided between Arsenal and Chelsea, seventh-placed Everton are guaranteed to be plying their trade in Europe next season, despite not challenging anyone for anything much throughout a fairly ordinary domestic campaign. It probably won’t be enough to keep Romelu Lukaku at the club, although we can expect to see manager Ronald Koeman in charge come the start of next season. The opportunity of a move to Barcelona may have come a couple of seasons too soon for the former Dutch international who spent many years at the Camp Nou as a player and has made no secret of his desire to manage the club one day. Moreover, limping into the Europa League may not be the best way to impress his erstwhile new bosses.

Back to the matter in hand and it looks like Chelsea and Tottenham for the Champions League along with two of either Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal or Manchester United to join them there, with the other two joining Everton in the Europa League. But wait a minute – there is another scenario. What happens if Manchester United win the Europa League? What happens then?

If United win the Europa League

Yes, you guessed it, things will change yet again if United win the Europa League. They face Celta Vigo in their semi-final second leg for the right to face Ajax in the final in Stockholm on Wednesday week and, while it won’t mean an extra place in Europe for the Premier League, it might result in five English teams in the Champions League and two in the Europa League.

Basically, if Manchester Utd win the Europa League and finish in the top four of the Premier League, the top four PL teams will all qualify for the Champions League group stages, but only if the winners of this year’s tournament fail to qualify for the group stage via their domestic championship. That isn’t going to happen as Juventus are poised to land yet another Serie A title and Real Madrid are neck-and-neck with Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Both have already qualified for next year’s tournament which means that, if they were to win the Europa League, United would go into the play-off round stage.

On the other hand, if Mourinho’s men win the Europa League but finish outside the top four of the Premier League, the top three Premier League teams will qualify for the Champions League group stages, while the fourth-placed team will qualify for the Champions League play-off round. United, meanwhile, would also will qualify for the group stages unless this year’s winners fail to qualify for the group stage via their domestic championship finishing position. In this case, United would go into the play-off round but, as discussed above, we already know that this isn’t going to happen.

For Mourinho and United, the bottom line is that winning the Europa League will earn them a place in the Champions League group stages. Not a bad reward! The worst case scenario for them is that they fail to win the Europa League and also finish outside the top four in the Premier League. In that case, they would be in the Europa League due to them finishing at least sixth in their domestic league.

Be careful what you wish for

It’s all something of a double-edged sword for Everton who will be in the Europa League in place of United as ‘winners’ of the League Cup next season. The problem is that they will enter the tournament at the third qualifying round stage. The draw for that round is on July 14th, with the first legs to be played on July 27th and the second legs on August 3rd. That’s a full nine days before the Premier League season even kicks off on August 12th.

It gets worse - if Everton make it through the third qualifying round, they would face a two-leg play-off round ahead of the group stages. The draw for that stage is set for August 4th, with the legs scheduled for August 17th and 24th.

Looks like a busy summer for the blue half of Merseyside then!

Images: Getty

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