REVEALED: England's four places in Champions League under threat like never before
Tottenham and Celtic look certain to be handed daunting draws in the Champions League group stages after the final seedings were confirmed for the draw on Thursday.
Spurs will be among the third seeds and Celtic will be ranked in the bottom pot of clubs for the draw in Monaco, which may well ensure they are handed perilous routes in the opening phase of the competition.
The bigger picture for English clubs may be that their lucrative quartet of positions in the Champions League may be under threat in the coming months, with Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal all under pressure to surpass expectations to keep the Premier League’s status as one of Europe’s elite leagues intact.
England’s four spots in the Champions League were not under any real threat heading into this season, but that could all change in a season that sees heavyweight teams such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea absent from the competition.
Europe’s governing body UEFA allocate four places in their elite competition to the three top ranked national associations and they have a coefficient points system in place that is updated after each round of fixtures in the Champions League and Europa League.
According to the current rankings, Premier League teams head into this season’s Champions League draw perilously perched in third place in the standings and holding a narrow advantage over Italy’s Serie A in the battle for a fourth place in next season’s competition.
The fine details of UEFA’s co-efficient are too complex to appreciate, but their system is evaluated over a five-year period, meaning the points awarded for Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League final win have now dropped off the charts for England.
It means Premier League clubs are in need of success this season to protect their current status.
With big-hitters Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all absent from this season’s Champions League, the task of protecting England’s four places falls to a trio teams lacking pedigree in the competition.
Leicester’s Premier League title triumph last May was a story that enchanted the sporting world, but the knock-on effect of their success may well damage England’s position in the UEFA co-efficient rankings.
Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes will be top seeds in the Champions League group stage and will avoid the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but an early exit would be a hammer blow to England’s rankings drive.
There is also pressure on Tottenham to deliver as they make their return to Europe’s top competition, with Mauricio Pochettino’s side adapting to the challenge of playing their European home games in the unfamiliar surrounds of Wembley Stadium.
Meanwhile, Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the past six seasons, which suggests Arsene Wenger’s side are unlikely to be contenders to reach the decisive end of the completion.
That may leave Pep Guardiola’s Man City to prop up the English challenge, with the team that reached last season’s Champions League semi-finals likely to offer the best hope for England to boost their coefficient tally.
With Europa League points also counting towards England’s ranking in the UEFA charts, Manchester United, West Ham and Southampton all have big roles to play in the bid to protect that fourth Champions League spot.
However, United manager Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his distain for the competition and may not field full strength teams for some matches, while Southampton and West Ham have no substantial experience on the European stage.
On the plus side, the Premier League will have seven teams collecting points in UEFA competitions this season, while Italy and Germany will only have six, so their potential for collecting points has been increased.
This numerical advantage could open the door for England to leap over Germany into second place in the rankings, although such a scenario would seem an unlikely as Bundesliga sides have a four-point advantage over their Premier League rivals.
The threat of Europe’s top clubs losing Champions League spots has sparked calls for change to the qualification set-up, with rumours of a breakaway league to rival UEFA’s competition floated last year.
Clandestine meetings featuring top officials from Premier League clubs sent shock waves through the corridors of power at UEFA and sparked hastily arranged discussions within UEFA over a revamped Champions League.
The result is that it now looks likely that Spain, Germany, Italy and England will be guaranteed four places in the competition’s group stages starting in the 2018/19 season, with the top club chiefs holding all the power as UEFA battle to keep them on board.
In essence, Europe’s superclubs have no interest minnows such as Dundalk or Leicester crashing their Champions League party and in an era when money equals power like never before in football, they are likely to get their own way.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TOP SEEDS
CURRENT UEFA CO-EFFICIENT RANKINGS
1. Spain (87.141 points)
2. Germany (66.927)
3. England (63.105)
4. Italy (60.915)