The Premier League must start to match Serie A progress in the Europa League if they want to retain their fourth Champions League place, as FFT's Chris Flanagan explains...
When Juventus netted their winner at Manchester City, it wasn't just worrying for Manuel Pellegrini but for every Premier League club aspiring to qualify for the Champions League. In the battle to stave off the advance of Serie A, suddenly the Europa League has taken on extra significance.
For the first time since overtaking France and Germany in 2002, the Premier League's fourth Champions League spot is under threat
The Premier League's top four have all earned places in the Champions League since 2002, when England overtook France and Germany in UEFA's club rankings. Now, for the first time since those days, the Premier League's fourth Champions League spot is under threat.
England topped the UEFA rankings between 2008 and 2012, but as success in Europe has become increasingly elusive they have slipped below Spain's La Liga. Currently they are on course to drop to third below the German Bundesliga by the end of this season.
Third would be enough to retain four Champions League spots. Fourth would not, and Italy are gaining fast.
PREM vs SERIE A
PL (UEFA rankings from last four seasons, explained below)
- 2014/15 13.571
- 2013/14 16.785
- 2012/13 16.428
- 2011/12 15.250
- 2014/15 19.000
- 2013/14 14.166
- 2012/13 14.416
- 2011/12 11.357
Serie A closing the gap
That's a result of success for Serie A in both the Champions League and the Europa League. Juventus reached the Champions League final last season, while Napoli and Fiorentina both made it to the Europa League semis.
The Premier League's lack of success in the Europa League and general indifference to the competition mattered little when English clubs were sweeping all before them in the Champions League, where ranking points can be amassed quickest. Clubs pick up points for winning matches, as well as bonus points for Champions League progress.
But that progress is no longer guaranteed. The quarter-finals have been without a Premier League club in two of the last three seasons and there have been worrying signs in the opening week of Champions League fixtures that the trend could continue.
Manchester United didn't appear strong enough to be genuine contenders for the trophy in defeat at PSV, while Manchester City continue their constant struggle to produce results in the competition. Victory for Juventus at the Etihad earned Serie A more of those precious ranking points.
With Arsenal habitually bowing out in the last 16 – and beginning horribly with defeat at Dinamo Zagreb – Chelsea may still be England's best hope in the Champions League. Yes, the same team who've made a disastrous start to the new domestic season and have looked vulnerable in defence. That Chelsea.
HOW IT WORKS
- Based on results in last five seasons.
- Each team gets two points for a win and one point for a draw (points halved for matches in the qualifying and play-off rounds).
- Clubs that reach last 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals or final of Champions League, or the quarter-finals, semi-finals or final of the UEFA Europa League, are awarded an extra point for each round.
- Four points are awarded for reaching group stage of Champions League and four points for qualifying for last 16.
Last season, English clubs (seven of them) collected a total of 90.5 ranking points between them, an average of 12.93 per club. Chelsea bagged the most, collecting 21 points for reaching the Champions League's last 16 and picking up four wins and four draws along the way. Arsenal were next with 20, then Manchester City with 15, Everton with 14, Liverpool with 10, Tottenham with 9 and er, Hull, with 1.5.
Of those 90.5 points, only 26.5 came from the Europa League via Everton, Tottenham and Hull, plus two points that Liverpool accrued after they dropped into the competition from the Champions League.
In contrast, Italian clubs picked up a total of 108 points between only six clubs, an average of 18 per representative, and it's the average that counts. Juventus amassed 29 points for reaching the Champions League final, but 71 points came from Serie A progress in the Europa League – albeit partly due to the fact that Napoli moved into that competition after losing in Champions League qualifying. Roma also switched to the Europa League after the group stage.
The overall UEFA rankings are complex, but another season of Europa League gains for Serie A could help them overhaul England for third spot, and Italy have their clubs lined up and prepared for battle.
Liverpool and Tottenham could be two of the clubs most affected if the Premier League lose their fourth qualifying spot, reducing their chances of reaching the Champions League even further
Sampdoria made an early exit following a shock 4-0 home defeat to Vojvodina but Napoli and Fiorentina are ready to go again and have been joined by Lazio, drop-outs from Champions League qualifying. Should that trio fare well and English sides continue to flounder in both of Europe's major club competitions, next season's Premier League could see only the top three qualify for the Champions League. So it's pressure on Tottenham and Liverpool, the only English sides remaining in this season's Europa League after qualifying-round defeats for Southampton and West Ham United. They could be two of the clubs most affected if the Premier League lose their fourth qualifying spot, reducing their chances of reaching the Champions League even further.
It may not be their natural stance but Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea fans might like to cheer them on too, just in case. After all, four into three doesn't go.