The finish line at the end of the 2020/21 Premier League season is coming into view.
For most clubs, just three more fixtures stand between themselves and the chequered flag being waved, whilst for some they have either another two or four games left to contest before the campaign can be rubber-stamped into the history books.
Although Manchester City have already scooped the Premier League title and Fulham, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion’s relegations to the Championship have been confirmed, the race for the top-four and UEFA Europa League places look set to go down to the wire, with several clubs still in with a chance of getting their passports ready for next season.
At the time of writing, Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City and Chelsea hold the top-four spots, with West Ham United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Everton all in with a chance of either breaking into the top-four or securing a Europa League berth.
But who can qualify for Europe next season, with the newly introduced Europa Conference League set to make the permutations and the way everything is decided just that little bit more complicated than usual?
Here, football.london has taken a close look at who can qualify for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League, how those competitions work, the permutations and how it could all come together.
Who will qualify for the 2021/22 Champions League?
Just as in previous years, the clubs that finish camped inside the top-four will qualify for next season’s Champions League, as well as the winners of this season’s tournament and the Europa League.
With Manchester City and Chelsea poised to go head-to-head in this season’s Champions League final later this month and Manchester United facing Villarreal in the Europa League final, and all three clubs poised to finish in the top-four, could it mean that clubs that finish outside of the top-four could gain entry into the Champions League for next season?
The answer to that question is no.
A maximum of five English clubs can participate in the competition, but England will not be awarded an extra place if, for instance, Chelsea win the Champions League and finish in the top-four. Should Chelsea win the Champions League and finish outside of the top-four they would gain entry to make up the five clubs involved.
City and United are already guaranteed top-four finishes, whilst Chelsea remain a pretty good bet to join them, despite being beaten 1-0 by Arsenal on Wednesday evening. The battle for fourth place looks as though it could go down to the wire, with Liverpool and West Ham United still hot on Chelsea and Leicester’s heels, with both clubs having games in hand.
Chelsea and Leicester, who face each other in the Premier League next Tuesday have two games left, whilst West Ham have three and Liverpool have four.
Who will qualify for the 2021/22 Europa League?
This is where a big change has come into play. In previous years, three Europa League spots have always been up for grabs, but the introduction of the Europa Conference League (more information on that to come) makes the situation slightly more different.
The club that finishes fifth in the Premier League table will qualify for the Europa League alongside the winners of the FA Cup, which will either be Chelsea or Leicester, of course, with those two poised to meet each other at Wembley this coming Saturday.
In the event of the winner of the FA Cup finishing in the top five of the Premier League, the sixth-placed team will qualify for the Europa League.
At the moment, considering Chelsea remain a solid bet to finish in the top-four, unless they lose their last two matches, the squabble can still be contested between themselves, Leicester, Liverpool and West Ham, perhaps even Tottenham as well.
From next season, only 32 clubs will participate in the group stages of the Europa League in comparison to the 48 that we have seen in previous years.
England could end up with just one club in the Europa League next season if an English side wins a European tournament and qualifies for the Europa League through domestic football. For example, that could happen if Chelsea won the Champions League final and dropped out of the top-four, although the latter is, though not impossible, unlikely.
Who will qualify for the 2021/22 Europa Conference League?
This is where it starts to get slightly complicated.
The Europa Conference League is UEFA’s new third-ranked European tournament, which, in truth, is a step down from the Europa League proper.
The club that finishes in sixth or seventh in the Premier League will go into the final round of qualifiers for next season’s inaugural Europa Conference League, although it depends on who lifts the FA Cup.
The winners of the Carabao Cup should have been the the ones going into the Europa Conference League, but because Manchester City defeated Tottenham in last month’s final, and are assured of a top-four finish and Champions League spot, that has been blown out of the water.
It is possible that there could turn out to be no English clubs in this competition next season if the club that finishes in the Europa Conference League position wins the Champions League. But for that to happen, Chelsea would have to beat City in the final and slide down the table, but as outlined above, that seems unlikely.
How many English clubs could qualify for Europe for next season?
A total of seven clubs will qualify for Europe next season, but that could be increased to eight if Chelsea win the Champions League final and fall out of the places required for a Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference spot. Again, that is increasingly unlikely.
If an English club wins the Champions League or Europa League, and qualifies for one of next season’s tournaments through their Premier League finish, it does not free up a European spot for another English club to capitalise on.
However, it could mean that instead of four Champions League clubs, two in the Europa League and one in the Europa Conference League, the number of clubs in each of those tournaments could change.
Current Premier League top nine:
1st: Man City – 80pts
2nd: Man Utd – 70pts
3rd: Leicester – 66pts
4th: Chelsea – 64pts
5th: West Ham – 58pts
6th: Liverpool – 57pts
7th: Tottenham – 56pts
8th: Arsenal – 55pts
9th: Everton – 55pts
As you can see from the current league table, which is correct at the time of publication, City wrapped up the title once and for all on Tuesday night following cross-city rivals United’s 2-1 home defeat to Leicester,
Chelsea, despite being beaten by Arsenal, could still finish anywhere between second, although that would now only be achievable on goal-difference and require United to lose their last three matches, which is highly unlikely, and eighth.
But should Chelsea win their last two matches, one of which is against Leicester of course, it would see them finish above the Foxes, meaning they would join City and United in locking out the top-three. The battle for fourth – the final Champions League spot – could be where the most drama comes.
Leicester, currently third, have an eight-point cushion over West Ham in fifth, but their two remaining matches against Chelsea and Spurs could be defining. Taking into account that the Hammers have a fairly kind-looking run-in, which consists of three games, and Liverpool have four games left, Liverpool could fancy their chances of sneaking in, but, of course, would need to win their games and hope Leicester stumbled.
Considering fifth is the position that will guarantee a Europa League place, unless Leicester finish fifth and win the FA Cup as well, all eyes will be on West Ham, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton and even Arsenal in that battle, with the Gunners now just three points behind West Ham, although the Hammers do have one game more left to play.
If Leicester did drop out of the top-four, finish fifth and beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final, the club that finishes sixth will qualify for the Europa League, meaning that could be Arsenal’s best hope of gaining Europa League qualification.
Again, though, Arsenal have several clubs ahead of them in a much better position, with games in hand, to pounce on that opportunity arising.