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English teams must lift their game to ensure fourth place remains a Champions League spot

kolo gi

For so many years, the narrative in English soccer has been “finish fourth, finish fourth”. The Premier League’s fourth and final Champions League spot is awarded to the team that finished in fourth, and has been for years. It always seemed as if England’s position atop this chain would be safe, but that position is becoming more and more perilous. And the situation next season could be dire.

European spots are decided by UEFA coefficient points and the complicated formula that comes along with them. The upshot is that Italy has gained 5.095 points on England this season due to Italian success in European competition and English failure. If Juventus wins the Champions League on June sixth against Barcelona, England’s coefficient lead on Italy will be 3.096 points. If Juve lose, it will be 3.426 points. A good year for Italian teams in Europe and a bad one for English teams could see England lose its fourth Champions League, proving disastrous for so many teams in English football.

Therefore, the 2015-16 season in European competition for the English teams involved is more important than ever. It seems perverse to root on Arsenal to be successful as a Spurs supporter, but now it may be necessary. Serie A teams had their first better season than English teams in Europe for the first time in five years this season, but the gap has closed dramatically. Italy has had only three Champions League berths since 2012-13, and getting the fourth bid back that they lost to Germany has proven to be incredibly difficult. English teams will face the same uphill battle if they lose their fourth Champions League berth to Italy.

The fourth Champions League berth in some ways is a crutch for English football, but in other ways is an amazing incentive for teams such as Liverpool, Tottenham and others who punch above their weight. It gives them a grounded and reasonable target to aim for. Finishing third adds another team into the mix and makes the challenge even more difficult. Combine that with the even smaller desire to play in the Europa League when finishing fifth, let alone fourth, the spiral could be a never-ending one.

Unless Aston Villa upset Arsenal and win the FA Cup, the current top seven will all be in European competition next season in some form or fashion. All of those teams have incentives to compete and do well in Europe, even the teams that are destined for the Europa League. And, it is quite conceivable that the failure of English teams this year in Europe and Juve’s rampant Champions League are both outliers, not the norm. England will have eight teams in Europe thanks to the Fair Play rules, which should be enough to cement England’s current status. But in order to be sure, English teams need to have success in Europe more than ever.

Yes, it may mean rooting for Chelsea or Arsenal against Europe’s other giants, or pushing Liverpool and Spurs to give their all in Europe’s favorite poisoned chalice competition, but it’s now more important than ever for English teams to be good when it matters most on the European stage.

Or else fourth place is not a crutch anymore.


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  1. Ronaldinho

    May 27, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    England only gets 7 spots in Europe, not 8. West Ham got the last Europa spot, over Southampton, which is incredibly stupid. The Fair Play should apply to lower leagues to give teams a chance to make money.

  2. toby

    May 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    The downturn in English football came about when American profiteer owners started taking over the big English teams and started applying their own American style salary caps on English teams in the search of profits. This meant American owned English team never purchased the best talent and kinda went for the second tier world class talent. The reason Chelsea and to a lesser extent Man City have been doing well in the last 4 years compared to the other big clubs in England is because they are not owned by Americans.

    The American owners are so ignorant about the sport that they have made bad coaching appointments in the likes of Moyes and Rodgers, managers with no track record of success or the status to attract a-list talent. The Glazers took out $1.5 Billion out of Man Utd that could have been spent on the team to compete with Barcelona or Bayern.

    Platini scrapping FFP could be a blessing for English football, because American owners have been using FFP as an excuse not to invest heavily in the teams that they own. You remove that excuse they use for buying C and B list talent and the media will start asking questions why aren’t they making big signings.

    • StellaWasAlwaysDown

      May 21, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      While I’m not defending American owners, unless you have a billionaire owner, how can you compete with the top teams in the PL and elsewhere? Small clubs keep getting smaller, and big clubs keep getting bigger. Money is ultimately killing a lot of the leagues in the world by stifling competition. Is anyone surprised when RM, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern, or Chelsea lift a cup? Why would they be when they spend so much more than anyone else year in and year out?

      • toby

        May 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

        But Man Utd are richer than every team you mentioned so that makes them the biggest team in the world. Their Americans owners took out $1.5 Billion for their own personal gain and not for the club to achieve success.

        Quiet frankly the American sports ownership model is at odds with how soccer is run. Real, Barca, Bayern, Juventus, Chelsea and Man City are not run for profit and success is the priority. With American owners they seek personal profit above success, so lack ambition and are happy to cruise along while they find ways to take money out of their club.

        Juventus are perfect example of the soccer mentality vs the American sports mentality. Juve earn less money than Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd, but they punch above their weight because they are happy not to make a profit and invest all their money on the best players they can get. Arsenal buy 1 big player a season to keep ticket sales up and don’t fire Wenger because he makes the club money despite the lack of success. Liverpool sign low wage unproven players that lower the quality of the team and let go of the best players because they earn too much. And Man Utd the richest team in the world doesn’t buy the best players in the world because the owners have taken 1.5 Billion out of the club and they are still in debt by £250 Million.

        It is about spending what you earn. American owned teams perform below their status because American owners are only in soccer for the money and nothing else. Chelsea and Man City’s owners are not in the sport to take money out of the teams.

  3. Matt

    May 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Yes, next season England’s coefficient will be divided by 8 which won’t help…BUT…

    I think English clubs will do better next season. We will have to wait and see what the summer brings but I would be surprised if Chelsea fall in the R16 again, also Manchester United will surely do better than Liverpool. Arsenal will do their usual.

    I actually think Germany is in more danger of losing their 4th CL spot than England. Germany will have Wolfsburg and Gladbach in next season’s CL, solid teams but I doubt either get out the group. A team like Leverkusen will finish no better than the R16. So in the CL they are relying on Bayern. They will be aided in the EL with Schalke and Dortmund who can go deep if they take it seriously

    I don’t see England losing their 4th spot anytime soon, only way is if they have a repeat of this season…but then the EPL will have only themselves to blame, as this season was a disaster in terms of Euro results

  4. Andrew Puopolo

    May 21, 2015 at 6:59 am

    Your assumptions at the end of the article are inaccurate. The coefficient is determined by (Sum of the coefficient of all teams involved in Europe) divided by (Number of teams in Europe). Therefore having an extra two teams in Europe does not help England in fact if the last team (this year it was Hull City) performs miserably. I’m not sure how the coefficient will be calculated with West Ham in Europe next year via Fair Play because that would mean we have to divide by 8 but we shall see.

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