England’s chance of five Champions League places is now 1.1% – but this is how it can happen

So, it’s over to you, Aston Villa. The future of England’s European football is in your hands.

Well, yours and Real Madrid’s. And Paris Saint-Germain’s. Oh, and Roma’s actually.

It turns out England’s hopes of an extra place in European competition next season rests in quite a few hands.

After a chastening week for English clubs in two of the three UEFA club tournaments, none of them can afford a fumble if the nation is to land an additional spot.

Before the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League, Opta gave England a 70.6 per cent chance of winning a two-horse race with Germany and landing a fifth Champions League place, which in turn would have almost certainly pushed qualification for the other European competitions as far down as eighth place in the Premier League.

After the quarter-finals, that probability has plummeted to 1.1 per cent.

This might be the appropriate time for a Jim Carrey meme. “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

Well, yes, there is still a chance. But having previously looked almost certain, England now need to thread the eye of a mathematical needle to claim it.


Why are there extra Champions League places on offer?

The Champions League will expand from 32 to 36 teams from the start of the 2024-25 season.

Of those four extra group-stage slots, one will be given to the league that finishes this season fifth in UEFA’s country ranking, which combines coefficient points accrued over the past five seasons.

One will be earned by a domestic title winner from one of the continent’s less prominent top flights via the ‘champions path’ qualifiers. The remaining two will go to the leagues whose clubs perform best across this season’s European competitions.

These latter two are being called the ‘European Performance Spots’ by UEFA and could see the fifth-placed Premier League team progress directly into next season’s new-look group stage.

(Graphic: Sam Richardson)

Which nations are leading the race for an extra Champions League place?

Heading into this week’s second legs of the quarter-finals, Italy were almost guaranteed an extra Champions League spot next season with Germany and England neck and neck (on 16.785 and 16.750 points).

Atalanta and Fiorentina reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League and Europa Conference League has resulted in Opta giving the country a 100 per cent chance of finishing in the top two places in the coefficient chart.

So one of the places is sewn up, leaving Germany and England to contest the second.

Atalanta knocked Liverpool out of the Europa League (Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Why were the Champions League quarter-finals so important?

The draw for the last eight handed England a clear path to claim the extra place.

If Arsenal had seen off Bayern Munich and Manchester City had beaten Real Madrid, they would have faced each other in the semi-finals, guaranteeing an English club would make the final.

That should have sealed a fifth Champions League spot for England, particularly if Atletico Madrid had knocked out Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

However, Arsenal and City both exited, while Dortmund overcame a first-leg deficit to progress to the semi-finals with a 5-4 aggregate victory over Atletico.

England will also not have representation in the Europa League semi-finals. Liverpool were beaten 3-1 over two legs to Atalanta, while West Ham United failed to beat Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen, a team who are yet to lose a game in any competition this season.

So Villa are the only remaining English club in any of the three competitions and England’s minuscule hopes of the extra place largely lie with them.

Dortmund are in the Champions League semi-finals after beating Atletico (Leon Kuegeler/Getty Images)

Is there still a route for England to gain the extra place?

There is, as 1.1 per cent is not quite zero, but that is where the simple maths ends.

There are two ways Villa can help England pull off the almost impossible but both seem, well, almost impossible.

First, we need to explain how the coefficient table is worked out.

The places are awarded on a points average rather than a total, so countries with more teams in European competition are not given an advantage over countries with fewer.

Before the semi-finals, England’s average is 17.375 compared to Germany’s 17.928, so Villa need to make up a gap of 0.553 points in the average — which, because the Premier League had eight teams in European competitions this season, means Unai Emery’s side must accrue at least 4.424 points.

Points are awarded for each leg of two-legged knockout ties with two points for a win and one for a draw. Villa would also earn an extra point for qualifying for the Conference League final.

Can Villa be England’s saviours? Well, it’s possible (Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The coefficient points for second legs are based on the result after 120 minutes (ie, including extra time but excluding penalties).

So in the unlikely event of the three remaining German teams (Bayern, who face Real Madrid, Dortmund, who play PSG, and Leverkusen, who are drawn with Roma) losing all six games — both legs of their respective ties — Villa winning both legs would be enough to clinch the extra spot for England as they would claim five points to Germany’s zero.

If Villa won the final they would gain an extra two points, giving England an extra seven overall.

In that scenario, Germany would need to add 0.322 points to their coefficient average, which, taking into account they had seven teams in Europe this season, means their remaining sides would need 2.254 points — three points in reality.

So even if Villa win both legs of their Conference League semi-final and then the final, German teams getting three draws from their six semi-final games would be enough, even if they were all knocked out over the two legs.

Follow the Champions League on The Athletic

(Top photo: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images)

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