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Can Six Premier League Teams Qualify for the 2018/19 Champions League? 

Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
27.06K   //    30 Apr 2018, 19:39 IST

UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken - Mexico City
How many teams can qualify for the UEFA Champions League from England?

As we have all known for some time, the 2018/19 Champions League will see the top four clubs from each of UEFA's top four associations qualify automatically for the Champions League group stages.

It is a rule that came into force amidst a number of protests - especially from France's Ligue 1 - but UEFA felt it was a justified move considering the gulf in quality when you compare top sides in Europe to champions of the smaller associations in the continent.

After all, fans would rather see a top Premier League or La Liga side in the Champions League rather than a relatively weaker club from, say, Greece or Austria.

The top four European associations - Spain (La Liga), Germany (Bundesliga), England (Premier League), and Italy (Serie A) - have very high coefficients and it will be some time before France can even think about getting into the top four considering they are calculated over a five-year period.

UEFA Coefficients
UEFA Coefficients

However, with the Champions League winners and Europa League winners also getting a berth in the group stages, more than four teams can qualify from a single country.

And in England, the competitive nature of the Premier League table - below the two Manchester sides - could make for an intriguing finish.

Who will finish in the Top Four in the Premier League?

As things stand, champions Manchester City are already through to the group stages as are their derby rivals Manchester United who cannot mathematically finish outside the top four.

EPL Table
2017/18 Premier League - Top Six

Liverpool are the team that should be looking over their shoulders as they have already played 36 games. Their main rivals - Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea - have a game in hand. What's more, Chelsea even play Liverpool at Stamford Bridge this weekend.

Should Chelsea win their game in hand and beat the Reds, they will be equal on points with the Merseyside club with only Goal Difference giving Liverpool the edge with a game to go. Spurs could also move into third place with two wins.

Unfavourable results could leave Liverpool in fifth place while Arsenal are too far behind in sixth place to mount a late charge for the top four trophy. Their only hope is winning the Europa League.

What if Liverpool and Arsenal win Champions League and Europa League?

Finishing in the top four is no longer the only route to the Champions League group stages. UEFA had first introduced a rule that allowed defending champions to qualify if they did not finish in the qualifying positions in their respective league.

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League
Liverpool and Arsenal are one match away from a European final

They then recently introduced another rule that allowed Europa League winners to enter the competition. This was a move that had the sole intention of making the second-tier trophy relevant but it was taken due advantage of by the likes of Sevilla (2014/15 and 2015/16) and Manchester United (2016/17).

So what happens if Liverpool finish fifth and win the Champions League while Arsenal finish sixth and win the Europa League? Do all teams in the top four also qualify?

Sadly, that will not be the case. UEFA are very clear about how many teams qualify.

"An association may have a maximum of five teams in the group stage."

In such a case, it is the fourth-placed team that will have to sacrifice its spot in Europe. And it won't the first time a fourth-placed team has been sacrificed.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Final
In 2012, sixth-placed Chelsea won the Champions League to qualify for next season's group stages

Back in the 2011/12 season, Chelsea had finished sixth in the Premier League. But they surprised everyone by reaching the Champions League final and beating Bayern Munich to lift the trophy.

As a result, they automatically qualified for the Champions League group stages. Fourth-placed Tottenham were pushed down to the Europa League as, at the time, only four clubs from the Premier League could qualify. This time it is five.

Will we see a repeat of that this season? Will Spurs or Chelsea miss out this time if such a scenario comes to pass? Only time will tell.

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Rohith Nair
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