Premier League Scraps Play Off Plans. For Better Or For Worse?

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIMarch 4, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Richard Dunne of Aston Villa tackles Wayne Rooney of Manchester United during the Carling Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The big four clubs in England were quick to oppose the idea of play offs for the fourth Champions League spot. This is not surprising when in five of the last six seasons the top four has featured Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

So the news today that the Premier League has rejected the idea for a four team play off featuring teams positioned from fourth to seventh is welcome news for those with a stranglehold on the most elusive tournament in Europe.

This might seem slightly odd given Liverpool’s ability to cause difficulty for their qualification aspirations.

If they had not won the trophy against Milan in 2005 they would not have found themselves gifted a place in the tournament after failing to secure a top four finish in that seasons Premier League.

If they failed to secure fourth this season they would face the certainty of Europa League action at best.

All of this does sometimes detract from what should be the main talking point concerning the Champions League trophy itself.

Although I am a loyal Liverpool supporter even I can see the arguments against Liverpool’s unexpected triumph in 2005 and their inclusion in the following seasons tournament.

As a team who have never won a Premier League trophy since its inception how can such an outfit compete in a trophy that in name should be dedicated to Champions?

The same goes for other teams in England and other countries in Europe who are allowed to qualify from a second or third place finish in their respective league campaigns.

Objections would indeed be made if the Champions League actually did what it says on the tin, and included only League champions from European Leagues.

This would then involve the immediate inclusion into the groups stages of the likes of Llanelli or The New Saints from the Welsh Premiership. Such inclusions however could only result in absolute mauling of such sides against giants such as Inter Milan and Manchester United.

So the alternative should be to redefine the name of the trophy itself, as opposed to making a slight mockery of the competition in naming the trophy after something that few teams who compete in it actually encapsulate.

Yet this is unlikely to happen so we are drawn into the dispute over what it is that is required to qualify for the tournament at this moment in time.

The decision by the Premier League to scrap a play off for the fourth spot does have both good and bad points.

A team such as Liverpool, you have to believe are more capable of achievement in the Champions League when compared to the likes of Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Whereas Liverpool may have the occasional poor season, previous form dictates that they are more enabled to consistently perform to a higher level. The other three teams however have not portrayed consistent performance from season to season, with each suffering recent years where they end up wildly adrift from attacking for fourth.

And despite Liverpool’s early exit from the group stages this year, a betting man would be hard pressed to place a bet on another team escaping through the initial rounds.

We can always be proved wrong of course, yet when it comes to England’s reputation in Europe, most surely we would back the likes of Liverpool or Arsenal to sustain it.

If the play off idea had been initialised then it could also have gifted any of the top four the opportunity to undo any devastating attempts at claiming the position outright.

On occasions the likes of Villa or Manchester City are able to show a credible run of victories against the big four teams. Aston Villa recorded consecutive victories against Manchester United and Chelsea this season, and Manchester City have also in recent seasons scored a double blow against their city rivals.

Yet more so than not they struggle against their more accomplished competitors, relying often on their close run victories against less able teams to mount a challenge for a top four finish.

You would expect with a play off scenario that any of the big four teams involved would instantly emerge as favorites to grab a Champions League spot, rising to the occasion in a manner that would be a detriment to the opposition.

Sometimes they may find themselves slipping up against the lesser able league sides but subvert this by stepping up the pace when necessary.

A play off scenario may have provided a non big four side with the ability to defend their fourth place finish and further accommodate their Champions League right.

It would be great to see a side such as Aston Villa reach the dizzy heights of European football and follow in the footsteps of previous unexpected triumphs seen by the likes of Leeds Utd.

A few solid seasons of top six finishes would do much to alter the European expectations of a side who this season are putting up an enticng battle for the elusive final Champions League spot.

So now each and every team who dream of appearing central stage in football the challenge once again leaves them requiring to penetrate the top four. They need to displace either of the teams that consistently occupy these positions and give us a greater impetus to have confidence in their abilities.

At the moment a fourth place finish for either Villa, Tottenham or Man City would be highly praised in overcoming what some consider as a boring domination by the big four. It would however leave us less hopeful of a successful campaign in the 2010/11 Champions league campaign if such success is not continued.