England’s position on top of the UEFA Fair Play rankings, calculated using a number of different criterion such as avoidance of yellow and red cards, crowd behavior, and the performance of club teams and national teams in European competitions, could lead to another UEFA Cup spot next season.
England would need to maintain their current position ahead of Norway and Germany until the end of April, when the final standings will be determined.
This is great news for those teams fighting tooth and nail for position in the bottom 5 or 6 in the top half of the table. As things stand right now, places 4-10 are separated by only 10 points and places 5-8, the usual UEFA Cup spots, are separated by just three points.
England could potentially send five teams to Europe’s second-tier club competition next year. If Tottenham beats Chelsea in the Carling Cup final on the 24th, Spurs would clinch the automatic UEFA Cup berth that comes with it, but that would also take away a spot from another team. Three teams (5-7) usually qualify for the UEFA Cup through their final league position; the 5th place team is guaranteed and the 6th and 7th place teams get in as long as both of the FA Cup finalists and the Carling Cup winner have qualified for Europe already, which has been the case in recent years. Another team could go through if they take care of business in the Intertoto Cup during the summer. One more team could now go if England gets that Fair Play spot.
Confused yet? The bottom line is that it’s very likely that four teams will be in the UEFA Cup next year, and there’s a good possibility that five teams will be there. That is, if Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel doesn’t rock the boat by picking up a few red cards before the end of the season, which he could very well do.
Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Everton, Blackburn, Manchester City, and possibly even West Ham all now have to fancy their chances of playing in Europe next season. With the way these teams have played so far this year, I think they all deserve it as well.