UEFA Announces Qualification Changes for Champions League, Europa League

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2018

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - AUGUST 24: The Champions League Trophy stands on display during the UEFA Champions League Group stage draw ceremony, at the Grimaldi Forum, Monte Carlo in Monaco, on August 24, 2017. (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

Changes to the qualification rules for next season's UEFA Champions League mean the team finishing fourth in the Premier League will no longer have to play a qualifier, but will instead go straight into the group stage.

It's the most notable of a series of changes made by UEFA and detailed on the competition's official website on Tuesday.

The rules come into effect ahead of the 2018/19 Champions League, meaning the teams who finish in the top four in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga will earn automatic qualification to the last 32.

Winners of the previous season's Champions League and Europa League will also be in the groups. However, the numbers from other leagues were reduced: "Top two from associations ranked 5th and 6th: France, Russia (4). Champions of associations ranked 7th to 10th: Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium, Turkey (4)."

Tottenham Hotspur could benefit from the new rules.
Tottenham Hotspur could benefit from the new rules.Martin Meissner/Associated Press

This is based on the UEFA access list and association coefficients from the end of the 2016/17 campaign.

So the new rules would allow direct access to the group stage for Tottenham Hotspur, currently fourth in England's top flight, if the season ended today. Last season's fourth-placed team, Liverpool, were forced to play the traditional two-legged qualifier beginning in early August. It stretched the Reds' resources just as they started their domestic season.

Yet while the new rules are great news for those in Europe's top leagues, certain changes may not be as well-received by champions of other divisions.

Specifically, Scottish Premier League giants Celtic are unlikely to be impressed. BBC Sportnoted how the Hoops, who regularly capture their country's league crown, "will need to win four two-legged ties to reach the group stage—three qualifying rounds and a play-off round."

Celtic face a longer route to the group stages, despite their continued dominance of the Scottish title.
Celtic face a longer route to the group stages, despite their continued dominance of the Scottish title.Uncredited/Associated Press

Such a bloated, pre-group schedule is created by an extended qualifying period. It will consist of two paths, with the first featuring champions from the "associations ranked 11th and below," per the tournament's official site.

The second route will be made up of third-placed teams from France and Russia. They will be joined by the "runners-up of the associations ranked seventh to 15th."

Two group places are up for grabs for the teams traversing this route, who have to play three rounds of matches.

In addition to the changes in qualification protocol, UEFA will also stagger kick-off times from next season, "with the traditional 7.45pm kick-off being replaced by 5.55pm and 8pm," per Kristian Walsh of the Liverpool Echo.

More Champions League sides will be eligible to drop into the Europa League.
More Champions League sides will be eligible to drop into the Europa League.AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Those teams who are knocked out of the qualifying paths will join 17 others who qualify automatically for the UEFA Europa League, per UEFA.com: "Two teams from associations ranked 1st to 5th: Spain, Germany, England, Italy, France (10). One team from associations ranked 6th to 12th: Russia, Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium, Turkey, Czech Republic, Switzerland (7)."

So in essence, teams who fail to make it through to the group stage of the Champions League will get another chance in Europe's second-tier competition.

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