The race for five places in next season’s Champions League

Two leagues will be rewarded with an extra place in next season’s Champions League based on performance in Europe this season, all part of the revamp to expand it to a 36-team competition — but who is likely to benefit?

With the knockout stages of the Champions League (UCL), Europa League (UEL) and Europa Conference League (UECL) in the round-of-16 stage, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of which leagues could get the two places.

That said, we’re still a long way from finding out who is going to get an extra spot — and it could yet go down to the wire.

This article will be updated throughout the season to track the race for the extra spots.

It’s about the best average coefficient of all teams taking part in Europe for each country. The two leagues with the best score get an extra place.

Each win is worth two coefficient points, a draw gets you one, and you get nothing for a defeat.

If a match goes to extra time, the score after 120 minutes is used. Penalties are not taken into account if the game is drawn, as they are used to determine the tie rather than the individual match.

There are also bonus points for getting to certain stages, which help give extra prominence to those teams who do well in the higher-profile competitions.

Champions League bonus points
4 – Group stage participation
5 – Round of 16
1 – QF, SF, final

Europa League bonus points
4 – Group winners
2 – Group runners-up
1 – Round of 16, QF, SF, final

Europa Conference League bonus points
2 – Group winners
1 – Group runners-up
1 – SF, final

The points gained by all clubs are added together, and that total score is divided by the number of clubs a country has in Europe in the season. That gives the coefficient average.

For example, if a country has 35 coefficient points and seven teams in Europe, its score is 5.00 for the table (35 / 7 = 5.00.)

So wins aren’t worth more in the Champions League?

No, the coefficient system is designed to assess the overall strength of leagues. Wins are the same in all competitions, otherwise it would be impossible for those leagues with few or no teams in the UCL group stage to move up the coefficient ranking.

The bonus points serve two purposes: firstly, to give weight to the strength of the competitions on a sliding scale, and second to provide points to those teams taking part in the UCL who might get few positive results.

In fact, it’s better for leagues to have some teams drop down into the UEL for the knockout rounds. Bonus points might be lower in the UEL, but each two-legged tie has five points up for grabs (four for the result and one for progressing to the next round). If a team stays in the UCL, they might not get past the round of 16 and have little chance of adding to the country’s coefficient through wins.

Won’t this just turn out to be extra places for two top leagues?

If we look back at the previous five seasons, England and Spain take seven of the 10 slots, with Italy and Germany one each. Only in 2021-22 did one of the countries with fewer than four teams in the Champions League (the Netherlands) finish in the top two of average coefficient.

So yes, history tells us that it’s highly likely two of the top leagues will have five places in next season’s Champions League.

2022-23: England and Italy
2021-22: England and the Netherlands
2020-21: England and Spain
2019-20: Spain and Germany
2018-19: England and Spain

Right, so who’s in contention this season?

This is the top 10 as of Feb. 22.

1. Italy, 15.571
2. Germany, 14.500
3. England, 13.875
4. France, 13.250
5. Spain, 13.187
6. Czechia, 12.750
7. Belgium, 12.400
8. Turkey, 11.000
9. Portugal, 9.833
10. Netherlands, 9.800

Is it a three-horse race between Italy, Germany and England?

Italy is out in front and with all seven teams still active, a top two place is its to lose.

Germany looks like it is in a strong position, but England still has six teams active in the round of 16 and most of them are in the lower-tier competitions. The Premier League is more likely for the top two.

France has only three teams active, and while Spain has five it will find it difficult with four of them in the UCL.

Czechia are the outliers, but it will take their three teams to go deep into the knockout rounds to cause a shock.

AC Milan have helped Italy sit in first place. (Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/AC Milan via Getty Images)

OK, so what’s the state of play for the leagues?

A league needs to keep as many teams as possible still active deep into the knockout rounds. The fewer teams in European competition, the less chance there is to score coefficient points to compete for the top two.

Results will be harder to come by with the fixtures becoming increasingly difficult.

It’s even more important for England and Spain, who started with eight teams in Europe; each win is worth slightly less to the coefficient (as the score is divided by eight rather than seven for Germany and Italy.)

1. ITALY, 15.571

Internazionale, Lazio and Napoli are in the UCL round of 16, but the draw didn’t look too promising for the trio, having been unseeded. While Lazio won 1-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg, the Bundesliga side will be favourites to go through on home turf. Inter also secured a 1-0 home win over Atletico Madrid, but Napoli could only draw 1-1 at home to Barcelona.

AC Milan (vs. Sparta Prague), AS Roma (vs. Brighton) and Atalanta (vs. Sporting CP) are in the round of 16 of the UEL.

Fiorentina take on Maccabi Haifa in the UECL.

Taking part in the round of 16: 7
Out: 0

The only league still with a full compliment of teams into the round of 16, Serie A is sitting pretty despite a tough UCL draw. It would be a surprise if Italy was to miss out on an extra place from this position.

2. GERMANY, 14.500

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig went through in the UCL. Bayern (lost 1-0 away to Lazio) and Dortmund (drew 1-1 at PSV) may both progress, but Leipzig were drawn against Real Madrid and lost the first leg at home.

SC Freiburg take on West Ham again in the round of 16 of the UEL, with Bayer Leverkusen meeting Qarabag.

Union Berlin were eliminated from Europe at the bottom of their UCL group and Eintracht Frankfurt are out of the UECL.

Taking part in the round of 16: 5
Out: 2

Germany might sit in second place, but it is far from secure with three of its five teams in the UCL. That said, if Freiburg can eliminate an English club and with Leverkusen having what looks to be a favourable draw, watch this space.

Bayern Munich cruised through in the Champions League group stage. Alex Grimm/Getty Images

3. ENGLAND, 13.875

Arsenal and Manchester City went through as group winners in the UCL. Man City added to the coefficient score with their first-leg win at FC Copenhagen, and while Arsenal lost 1-0 at FC Porto they will be favourites to go through.

Brighton & Hove Albion (vs. AS Roma), Liverpool (vs. Sparta Prague) and West Ham United (vs. Freiburg) are all through to the UEL round of 16.

Aston Villa take on Ajax in the UECL.

Manchester United and Newcastle United were knocked out after finishing bottom of their UCL groups.

Taking part in the round of 16: 6
Out: 2

The Premier League is in third place after two of its teams failed in the Champions League. It makes it much harder to make the top two — but deep runs from multiple teams would seal it.

With four teams in the round of 16 for the UEL and UECL, and both UCL teams in a good position to advance, England must be seen as the favourites to finish in the top two ahead of Germany.

4. FRANCE, 13.250

Paris Saint-Germain beat Real Sociedad 1-0 in the first leg of the UCL round-of-16 tie.

Marseille face Villarreal in the UEL round of 16, but Lens, Stade Rennais and Toulouse are now out.

In the UECL, Lille will face Austria club Sturm Graz.

Taking part in the round of 16: 3
Out: 3

With only three teams left in Europe, France’s chances of making the top two are low.

France needs Paris Saint-Germain to keep going in the Champions League. Pedro Salado/Getty Images

5. SPAIN, 13.187

Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad continue in the UCL. Real Madrid will be expected to advance against RB Leipzig after winning the first leg 1-0 in Germany, while Barcelona will take a 1-1 draw with Napoli back to Camp Nou. However, Atletico lost 1-0 away to Inter, with Real Sociedad also beaten 1-0 away to Paris Saint-Germain. LaLiga will be fortunate to escape unscathed from those ties.

Villarreal take on Marseille in the UEL.

Osasuna failed to qualify for the UECL, while Sevilla were knockout out in the UCL and Real Betis were eliminated in the knockout playoff round of the UECL.

Taking part in the round of 16: 5
Out: 3

Osasuna’s failure in UECL qualifying severely affected Spain’s chances of making the top two. The loss of Sevilla, who finished bottom of their UCL group, and Real Betis was also damaging.

With Spain having four of its five clubs in the Champions League it will be exceptionally difficult to challenge for the top two from here — but not impossible.

Can Barcelona get past Napoli in the Champions League? FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

6. CZECHIA, 12.750

Sparta Prague will play Liverpool in the UEL, while Slavia Prague take on AC Milan.

Viktoria Plzen face Swiss side Servette in the UECL.

Bohemians failed to qualify for the group stage.

Taking part in the round of 16: 3
Out: 1

The surprise league to appear in the race for the extra Champions League places, especially as only three teams made the group stages.

With just four teams in Europe, wins for Czechia’s clubs are worth 0.5 coefficient points to the average, compared to 0.25 for England and Spain.

However, the two Prague sides were given very difficult draws in the UEL and it would take a couple of shocks to keep Czechia in the hunt.

7. BELGIUM, 12.400

Club Brugge (vs. and Union St.-Gilloise (vs. Fenerbache) are still in the UECL, but Genk and Gent were eliminated.

Antwerp finished bottom of their UCL group and are out.

Taking part in the round of 16: 2
Out: 3

With just two of their five teams left, it would be a miracle if Belgium mounted a serious challenge now.

What to look out for in March

Champions League

It’s the four ties involving teams from Germany, Italy and Spain which will prove crucial — and could play into England’s hands. Could England emerge with two teams through to the quarterfinals, while other leagues lose multiple teams?

With four teams still in contention, Spain could make real ground and pull themselves into contention. But only Real Madrid (vs. RB Leipzig) won their first leg tie, with Barcelona drawing away to Napoli. While Atletico Madrid lost to Lazio they will be favourites on home turf, but Real Sociedad must overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Paris Saint-Germain. If Spain are going to have a chance, they will need more than just Real Madrid to advance — otherwise rivals from Italy and France will continue on.

None of Germany’s three teams won, taking on the Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven vs. Borussia Dortmund), Italy (Lazio vs. Bayern Munich) and Spain. Bayern and RB Leipzig have the chance to knock out rival clubs, though the latter appears unlikely.

Italy has three teams left, but all must be away from home in the second leg against opposition from Spain and Germany. If most of its teams can go through, one of the extra slots will start to look secure as it will be at the expense of rivals.

England, meanwhile, faces teams from Portugal (FC Porto vs. Arsenal) and Denmark (FC Copenhagen vs Man City), no direct battle.

Europa League

Italian clubs have only one direct head to head, with Roma taking on Brighton. If Roma go through, that will go a long way to sealing a top-two place. Their other ties are against teams from Czechia and Portugal.

The tie between Freiburg and West Ham — the clubs also met in the group stage — is crucial for the Bundesliga; Freiburg surely have to go through to keep Germany in contention. That said, Leverkusen have a winnable game against a team from Azerbaijan.

As well as the Roma and Freiburg ties, the third for an English club is Liverpool against Czechia’s Sparta Prague. All England’s games are against rivals for the top two. A full house through to the quarterfinals would likely secure an extra UCL place.

France and Spain have only one team left, and Marseille take on Villarreal.

While Czechia looked an outside bet before the draw, its teams taking on Liverpool and AC Milan have greatly reduced its chances.

Europa Conference League

There are no direct head to heads between the competing leagues in the round of 16

Why the knockout playoff round was so important in February

A quirk of the coefficient system is that results in the knockout playoff round, essentially the round of 32, of the UEL and UECL added points to the national association score, but not a club’s. So results count in the race to be one of the two top leagues.

While there are higher bonus points for winning a group compared to finishing second, the runners-up are capable of adding more points overall than the group winners by advancing from the knockout playoff round.

For instance, the UEL group winners get four bonus points, and the runners-up get two bonus points. But the runners-up play in the knockout playoff round with an additional four points available through the results of each leg, if they won both matches — a total of six points.

It means leagues with multiple clubs in the knockout playoff round could add to their score.

The bad news for the Premier League was all its teams in the UEL and UECL won their group, so the league couldn’t pick up any points whereas all its rivals could.

When will we find out who gets the extra places?

In many seasons it may be obvious in March, once we know which leagues have teams through to the quarterfinals of the three European competitions.

However, the 2019-20 season shows that it can go right down to the wire. Germany didn’t overtake the Premier League for second place until Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the final of the Champions League. If that’s repeated this season, we wouldn’t know which league gets the second additional spot until the UCL final takes place June 1.

It would leave two clubs in the domestic leagues praying for the right result in the final. In 2019-20, Bayer Leverkusen and Leicester City finished fifth in Germany and England respectively. Leverkusen would have needed Bayern to win the UCL final to get the place, while Leicester required Bayern to lose the match.

We could also hypothetically see a situation where, for instance, Arsenal winning the Champions League could hand fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur a place in the Champions League.

What’s the maximum number of places in the UCL and in Europe?

Under the old system, a maximum of five clubs from one association could play in the Champions League. It meant that in the unlikely event teams from the same league won the Champions League and Europa League, yet both finished outside the UCL places domestically, then fourth would have to surrender their place and drop into the UEL.

But from 2024-25 it will be possible for seven Premier League teams to get a place in the UCL: The top four, fifth through league performance in Europe, and the winners of the UCL and the UEL.

It would also technically be possible to have 11 Premier League teams in Europe: The usual allocation of seven, plus the extra Champions League place and the titleholders of all three European competitions (if they finished outside a European position.) UEFA has yet to take a decision on a maximum number in Europe from one association, though sources have indicated that it may be capped at 10 if this very unlikely scenario occurs, with a place in the UEL taken away.

Who gets the extra place?

If we assume the extra spots will go to one of the top leagues, it means fifth place will enter the Champions League and it will have eight (rather than seven) places in Europe. Other European berths drop down a place.

If the Premier League gets it, the access will be:

Champions League: 1-5
Europa League: 6, FA Cup winners
Europa Conference League: Carabao Cup winners

If the cup winners finish in the top 6, the European places could drop to 7th and 8th in the table.

If LaLiga, the Bundesliga or Serie A gets it, the access will be:

Champions League: 1-5
Europa League: 6, Cup winners
Europa Conference League: 7

If a team wins the UEL but doesn’t qualify for the UCL domestically, that league could have six places in the UCL — the five places to the leagues plus the UEL titleholders as an additional.

Which teams would benefit right now?

Right now, RB Leipzig are fifth in the Bundesliga, with Bologna holding that spot in Serie A.


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