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…
Chelsea – Up to third after a somewhat fortunate victory at Crystal Palace. But there’s nothing fortunate about Frank Lampard’s side recent form: the defeat to West Ham is their only setback in seven games in all competitions either side of the football suspension.
While the win at Palace was critical for their top-four hopes, Chelsea 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 lost the first leg 3-0 at Stamford Bridge in February.
Remaining fixtures: Sheff Utd (a), Norwich (h), Liverpool (a), Wolves (h)
Leicester – Still in prime position to qualify for the Champions League, but Brendan Rodgers’ side have struggled for form since Christmas and must be looking over their shoulders after losing third place in the Premier League table to Chelsea this week.
As many as three wins from their last four games may be required, but Crystal Palace and Aston Villa currently remain the only two teams Leicester have beaten since February.
Remaining fixtures: Bournemouth (a), Sheff Utd (h), Tottenham (a), Man Utd (h)
Manchester United – 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 – who they will face 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.
Remaining fixtures: Aston Villa (a), Southampton (h), Palace (a), West Ham (h), Leicester (a)
Wolves – Faltering at just the wrong time? Back-to-back defeats to Arsenal and Sheffield United have put a heavy dent in the Champions League hopes of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. That said, it could still prove to be just a blip; until the loss to Arsenal, Wolves had been impressive since the restart – winning and keeping clean sheets in all of their opening three games.
Wolves are also still in Europa League contention with a home tie against Olympiakos to come following a 1-1 away draw in the first leg.
Remaining fixtures: Everton (h), Burnley (a), Crystal Palace (h), Chelsea (a)
Sheffield United – This season’s surprise package, Chris Wilder’s side are very much back in contention for Europe after a great week’s work: defeat of Tottenham, a point at Burnley, a last-gasp victory over Wolves.
Their remaining fixtures still include Leicester and Chelsea, so there is a chance to reel in the teams above them.
Remaining fixtures: Chelsea (h), Leicester (a), Everton (h), Southampton (a)
Arsenal – After a rocky restart, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last five games – although their quest for a European place was hit hard by the draw with Leicester. Mikel Arteta’s side can ill afford to drop any more points before the season end, but that will be a tough ask with several difficult fixtures remaining.
They are still in the FA Cup but were drawn with Man City in the semi-finals – less than a month since losing 3-0 at City in their first game back.
Remaining fixtures: Tottenham (a), Liverpool (h), Aston Villa (a), Watford (h)
Tottenham – On the fringes but still fighting: Spurs are seven points adrift of fifth following their win over Everton, but seventh has been enough to secure a Europa League place in the last five seasons. A big week awaits Jose Mourinho’s men, with three of their final five games to be played between now and July 15.
Remaining fixtures: Bournemouth (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (a), Leicester (h), Palace (a)
Also in the hunt – Burnley moved above Tottenham into ninth following Wednesday’s win at West Ham, while Everton still have aspirations of a top-half finish.
B’mouth vs Tottenham
July 9, 2020, 5:30pm
A Villa vs Man Utd
July 9, 2020, 8:00pm
Sheff Utd vs Chelsea
July 11, 2020, 5:00pm
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.
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
Europa League – Manchester City*
*second qualifying round, pending appeal