As the most prestigious club competition in football, the UEFA Champions League draws fans from across the globe. Although the other continental Champions League-style tournaments gain large interest nationally, it is only the UCL that gains global attention. Sure, the latter stages of the CONEMBOL Copa Libertadores is often well-publicised, but it lacks the same game-to-game interest and glamour as the European version. However, thanks to an intriguing loophole, English football could be looking at having only three places, as opposed to the four granted, in the 2021-22 season.
This comes through an odd loophole that exists in the regulations for the tournament. Being criticised as a top-heavy and unfairly balanced competition, the Champions League offers half of its 32 group stage placings to the ‘big four’ leagues in Europe of Italy, Germany, Spain, and England. Thanks to odd regulations, though, there is a chance that a team who comes fourth in the Premier League this year could miss out on the UCL entirely next year.
With the scrap for the Champions League spots likely to produce a surprise fourth-place team, we could see a team being left very unhappy with a unique set of circumstances.
What could see fourth place miss out on the UEFA Champions League?
So, league rules for the UCL decree that only five teams from one nation can be involved as an absolute maximum. This is to allow for the unique circumstance of when a team wins the previous seasons UEFA Champions League but is unable to finish within the UCL spots in their own league. This would open up a fifth ‘winners slot’ that would mean that the five teams are capable of competing.
However, you could also win entry into the Champions League by winning the UEFA Europa League. This means that the unlikely but still possible scenario of two teams in the Premier League winning either competition, without qualifying for the UCL in league placing, could see fourth place miss out. At the moment, this could, for example, mean currently 8th-placed Chelsea winning the UCL, and 10th-placed Arsenal winning the UEL. Unlikely? Perhaps, but it is still a real thing that could take place when you factor in the budgets available to either side.
If both of those things were to happen, then the 4th-placed team – at the moment champions Liverpool – would miss out on the chance to compete next year. The general stipulation is that UEFA would give a team who has won a competition more credence to be at the top table than a team who has merely finished in the fourth spot in a league.
However, fans of any side sitting in 4th between now and the end of the season should be happy to know that these are quite unlikely scenarios. Given that both Arsenal and Chelsea are playing well enough under their management team (new management for Chelsea), though, the possibility of such an experience cannot be discounted.
It would, though, be an understatement to say it would be the most surprising finish to the season possible.