Now that our participation in next season’s Europa League is confirmed, I decided to cobble together as much information on the competition and who we might be paired against in the Third Qualifying Round (and beyond, if we get there).
There are still a handful of places to be decided over the next week or two, but none of the teams who may qualify has a coefficient ranking (more on that shortly!) higher than ours, so our chances of being seeded in later rounds is unaffected.
Currently undecided places:
Swiss Cup: if FC Sion win, they go into the group stage; if Basel win (already in CL qualifiers), Luzern go to 2Q, Thun upgraded to 3Q and Zurich upgraded to group stage.
Greek League: Highly convoluted playoff system for 2nd-5th places. Essentially a round-robin system but where each team doesn’t necessarily start on 0 points. Panathinaikos have “won” the playoff with two to play, so they are in the CL 3Q. The rest is still up for grabs, 2nd place in the playoff goes into the group stage, 3rd into 3Q with us, 4th into 2Q. The final outcome will be known on Sunday.
Austrian Cup: if Austria Vienna win, they join us in 3Q. If Red Bull Salzburg win (already in CL qualifiers), Wolfsberger go to 2Q and Sturm Graz upgraded to 3Q.
Polish League: As things stand, Lech Poznan would be in CL qualifiers, with Legia Warsaw in 2Q as cup winners (winner scored by Marek Saganowski) and Jagiellonia Bialystok and Slask Wroclaw in 1Q. If Legia win the league (1pt behind, 2 to play), they and Lech Poznan would swap competitions. Final outcome also known on Sunday.
A total of 191 teams will participate at various stages of the competition:
1Q: 102 - notable names: West Ham (as Fair Play League winners), Rosenborg, Elfsborg (Anders Svensson), Hajduk Split, Red Star Belgrade, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Shamrock Rovers, Skonto Riga.
2Q: 51 winners of 1Q + 15 - notable names: Copenhagen (Steve de Ridder), Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw, IFK Gothenburg, Inverness Caledonian Thistle
3Q: 33 winners of 2Q + 25 - notable names: Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao, Bordeaux, Sampdoria, Saint-Etienne, Standard Liege
Playoff: 29 winners of 3Q + 15 losers from Champions League 3Q - potentially the likes of Basel, RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Ajax, Monaco, Celtic, Steaua Bucharest, Partizan Belgrade, Lech Poznan
Group Stage: 22 winners of PO + 10 losers of CL PO + 16 - notable names: Liverpool, Spurs, Schalke, Napoli, Marseille, Villarreal, Fiorentina, Besiktas, Dnipro, Anderlecht.
Knockout Stage: 24 teams from GS + 8 3rd-placed teams from CL GS
All the way through the competition, UEFA utilise their coefficient points system. This system is in two parts - each nation earns points based on how its teams perform in UEFA competitions, which then drives how many places in the Champions League and Europa League that nation receives each year; each team also earns its own points based on its own performance (naturally, slightly more points earned for CL performance than EL). Each team’s points are supplemented by 20% of the nation’s points.
England’s coefficient for the end of this season is 80.391. As we have no European history in the last 5 years, we have no points of our own, so our entire coefficient score is based upon the 20% of 80.391 added to our score, i.e. 16.078.
That score alone is enough to rank us relatively highly in the whole of Europe - UEFA has current scores for 454 teams, and we’d slot into 119th (along with West Ham). While that sounds low, it’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the teams above us in that table will either be in the Champions League or will have failed to qualify for Europe this season.
Taking the coefficient scores of each of the teams in 3Q, 2Q and 1Q, we are ranked equal 15th with West Ham. The good news from that is that it is absolute confirmation that we will be a seeded team when the draw for 3Q is made on 17th July.
That means that we definitely cannot face any of the relative big hitters in 3Q, i.e. Dortmund, Bilbao, AZ, Dynamo Moscow, Standard Liege, Bordeaux, Sampdoria, Vitoria de Guimaraes, Saint-Etienne, Zurich or Slovan Liberec (automatic 3Q qualifiers), or any of the highly-ranked teams from earlier rounds, i.e. Copenhagen, Trabzonspor or Legia Warsaw.
You may have noticed that the first three qualifying rounds take place within a relatively short period of time. So short, in fact, that the draw for 3Q takes place the day after the first leg of 2Q. This means that we won’t necessarily know where we will be travelling to. We *might* know, but only if we are drawn against one of the unseeded teams who enter the competition in 3Q.
The draw itself is partially pre-determined. The seeded teams and unseeded teams are determined by coefficient (but, as mentioned, qualifiers from 2Q aren’t yet known, so the higher coefficient of the two teams from each tie is used, on the assumption that more often than not, the higher-ranked team will win), and are then placed into a pre-group of 6 teams (with one pre-group of 5 teams), where each group is of similar strength based on coefficients.
I believe, but am not 100% certain, that only 6 actual draws are made on the UEFA stage by Master of the Draws Gianni Infantini, with those 6 draw patterns then replicated across each of the pre-groups. For example, they draw team 2 from the seeds and team 4 from the non-seeds, and that is replicated through each of the 5 pre-groups.
If we progress from 3Q into the Playoff round, our chances of being seeded diminish somewhat, but largely depend on who drops from the Champions League 3Q into the Europa League. If we were to (almost certainly wrongly) assume that the remaining places in both the Champions League and Europa League are filled by either the team currently occupying the qualifying league position (Greece and Poland), or the cup final is won by the overwhelming favourite who has already won the league (Austria and Switzerland), AND every tie in both competition went with the higher-ranked team, we would be the last seeded team in the Playoff round. Upsets in the Europa League don’t affect us - they actually help us - but highly-ranked teams losing in 3Q in the Champions League is a categorically bad thing.
Ultimately, we’ve got to concentrate on winning our own games first. The odds are in our favour for seeding in the Playoff, but barring a load of upsets in the qualifiers, we’d almost certainly be in the bottom pot of seeds for the Group Stage if we get there.