Will play-offs be used to determine European qualification?

UEFA’s Executive Committee has approved guidelines on how clubs can qualify for next season’s Champions League and Europa League, whenever that may be.

UEFA has urged leagues to finish normally, when it is safe to do so, but, for the first time, they have opened the door for seasons to finish in a different way to ensure European qualification.

“Due to calendar issues, it would be preferable that suspended domestic competitions would restart with a different format in a manner which would still facilitate clubs to qualify on sporting merit.”

In other words, another format would be preferable to simply cancelling the season.

What ‘different format’?

UEFA wants seasons to finish in the fairest way and, if they cannot finish the season in the normal route, it will be for each top league, with the approval of their association, to decide an alternative.

Could we see play-offs to determine Champions League and Europa League qualification in countries across Europe should the impact of the coronavirus pandemic force domestic leagues to be cut short?

  • UEFA: Leagues to interpret ‘sporting merit’ if seasons end
  • Bundesliga ready to return on May 9

UEFA’s top executives have given their associations, including the FA and SFA, the green light to explore different finishes to the season.

They have prioritised finishing domestic seasons over completing the current Champions League and Europa League campaign, ideally no later than the end of August.

UEFA has stressed that competitions must be decided ‘on sporting merit’ this season.

What defines ‘sporting merit’?

It’s for top leagues and associations to interpret, but UEFA has given some guidance.

They say leagues must decide its European qualifiers in an “objective, transparent and non-discriminatory way”.

Will the Premier League change its format?

The Premier League’s intention is to complete their remaining 92 games in the normal format and there is a conference call on May 1 to update all 20 clubs on discussions throughout the game.

The Premier League is not expected to discuss any curtailment of the season at this stage.

Who has the final say?

Each association, such as the FA and SFA, has the ultimate say on when seasons can finish and they can propose clubs that qualify for European competitions.

But, ultimately, UEFA must approve the list of clubs.

UEFA stressed: “If a domestic competition is prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons in accordance with the above conditions, UEFA would require the national association concerned to select clubs for the UEFA club competitions 2020/21 based on sporting merit in the 2019/20 domestic competitions.”

In other words, the FA and SFA, for instance, are required to select the club that can qualify, based on sporting merit this season.

Could leagues use UEFA’s club coefficient?

UEFA’s announcement would appear to rule this out.

UEFA calculates its coefficients based on results of the five previous seasons of Champions League and Europa League participation, or over one season.

Under the current rankings, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal are the top-four ranked sides in England, ahead of Tottenham, Chelsea, Leicester and Wolves.

But UEFA’s system penalises clubs that have not regularly competed in recent European competitions.

Sheffield United are seventh-placed in the Premier League, three points ahead of ninth-placed Arsenal.

They would be furious if Arsenal were allowed to qualify over them, based on their top-four coefficient ranking, and UEFA say leagues must be ‘fair’.

Towards the end of their 850-word statement, UEFA warned it may prevent clubs from entering its competitions “if there is a public perception of unfairness in the qualification of the club”.

If seasons must finish early, fairness is the key to satisfying European football’s governing body.

Is football in control?

No, but UEFA is doing all that it can to offer a framework to support its associations, both structurally and financially.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting different countries in different ways.

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