Following the exits of Manchester United and Newcastle in the UEFA Champions League in December, there had been worries of England falling behind in the race to earn extra spots in the competition next season. Is the worry justified?
UEFA coefficients. Depending on where you’re from, it’s either something you barely know anything about, or something you hear about every other week. And if you’re from England, Spain, Germany or Italy, for the past decade you’ve had every reason not to care.
However, the times they are a-changin’. UEFA has announced its new Champions League format, which we’ll see in action for the first time next season. In this new iteration, the number of participating teams will increase from 32 to 36, together with a completely new group stage format. So where do these four additional teams come from? This is where things become interesting.
One additional spot is given to the association in fifth place in the country coefficient rankings. This year, this is looking to be a battle between the number five nation of the past seven years, France, and new challengers, the Netherlands.
Another additional spot is given to the ‘champions path’ qualifiers, where winners of domestic leagues without a direct group stage ticket battle it out every year.
And finally, two additional spots are given to the associations with the best collective European performance in the previous season. That is, the current season if we’re talking about next year’s Champions League. Last term, for example, the two best associations were England and Spain. If that were to repeat this year, the fifth placed team in both the Premier League and La Liga will get a direct Champions League ticket next season.
With this change, the UEFA coefficients have become relevant for every country in Europe — including the top four nations England, Spain, Germany, Italy. So, let’s refresh your memory: what are UEFA coefficients?
What Are UEFA Coefficients?
Every year teams from Europe play in the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. Since quality differs wildly even within these competitions, UEFA long ago decided that some associations get more tickets than others. In order to determine this, they invented the UEFA coefficients.
Essentially, if a team from your association gets results in Europe, you get points: two points for a win, one for a draw. All points together make up a nation’s coefficient. To keep things fair, this total is divided by the number of participating clubs from your nation. That way, countries that get fewer tickets to Europe can still compete with nations that get more. At the end of each European season, all nations are sorted by their total coefficient over the last five years — countries at the top get the most/best tickets, nations at the bottom will only get a couple and will need to play a lot of qualifiers.
For fans from most countries, this is of utmost importance; it can be the difference between playing in the Champions League via a direct ticket or getting knocked out in qualifiers — and potentially European football altogether — in June or July.
This season has seen a lot of dramatic movement across the rankings:
- France look to have secured fifth place ahead of the Netherlands, which is good for three direct tickets to the UCL group stage (compared to two for sixth).
- Turkey is up to ninth place, rising from 20th only two years ago.
Further down we can also see much going on:
- Czechia is in 11th but still has a good shot at making the top 10, which would get them a direct UCL ticket.
- Scotland is at serious risk of dropping outside the top 10 and losing their direct UCL ticket.
Historically, however, it’s not been that exciting at the top. The top four nations get the same allocation, and since they’ve been the same quartet for the past 15 years, fans from England, Italy, Spain and Germany have had little reason to pay attention to their nation’s coefficient. But as mentioned before, that’s now changed. In the new UCL format, an additional ticket will be given to each of the two nations with the highest coefficient from the current year only.
That means that there’s now a very good reason for fans from these countries to start paying attention. They are top of the ranking for a reason, and therefore they are generally most likely to end in the top two of the yearly ranking as well. Other nations can compete here, but only sporadically. The Netherlands made the top two in 2021-22, and Portugal were top in 2010-11. This year, Turkish clubs started the season well and back in mid-October, Turkey were being given an 18.1% chance of getting a bonus UCL group stage place in 2024-25. However, it’s near impossible now, with it looking most likely to be given to two of England, Italy and Germany.
Will Fifth Place in the 2023-24 Premier League Qualify for the Champions League?
England are still simulated to have the best chance of getting that extra place in next season’s Champions League (into the league stage, not into qualifying) by the Opta calculations.
Despite Newcastle and Manchester United finishing bottom of their UCL groups and not even qualifying for the Europa League knockout round, six of the remaining eight English clubs are still in European competition – Manchester City, Arsenal, Brighton, Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Ham. This means that England are projected to have a 77% chance of getting one of those two spots and that would mean fifth position in the Premier League this season has a strong chance of being enough for a place in the Champions League in 2024-25.
That is great news for teams like Manchester United, Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, West Ham and Brighton – the latter two having never played in the Champions League before.
The fight for the other ticket for an extra UCL league stage place looks most likely to be between Italy (50.4%) and Germany (48.3%), with Italy currently having more coefficient points this season than every other nation (14.0), but projected by Opta to eventually finish behind England (18.4 vs 19.4) at the end of 2023-24.
France are in with a shout (9.9% chance), but will need English, Spanish and Italian clubs to have disastrous knockout stage campaigns and for their remaining six clubs (Paris Saint-Germain in the UCL as well as Marseille, Toulouse, Rennes, Lens and Lille) to progress very far into each tournament they are involved in.