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Spain's spots in Europe next season: implications for Villarreal

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There have been some changes made in the Europa League for next year, and those could affect Villarreal. Let's look at how the result of this year's competition, and the Copa del Rey result, could affect the Yellow Submarine.

Maria José Segovia

Okay, now that Sevilla has somehow survived Beto's erratic goalkeeping and gone through to the Europa League semifinal, and seeing as Barcelona and Real Madrid are in the Champions League semis, it's time to consider the implications for next year's European competitions.

Spain could end up with eight teams going into Europe.  But, maybe not.

Champions League (CL):

The important thing to remember is teams can qualify for the CL in more than one way.  There is a place reserved for the winners of the last CL in the group stage, and also (this is new) a space reserved for the EL winners from the previous season.

Since all four teams remaining in the CL this year--Barca, Madrid, Bayern and Juventus-- are going to qualify for the CL anyhow through their league performance, the place reserved for the CL winners in the group stage is vacated.

The good news for whoever wins the EL is, they take the Cl winners' place, so they go directly into the group stage--no playoff round.

The key variables remaining are whether Sevilla wins the EL, and whether they finish in the top four of La Liga as well.

The CL possibilities are:

(a) Sevilla win the EL, but don't finish in the top four in La Liga. In that case, Sevilla go into the CL group stage, as would the clubs finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in La Liga.  The fourth-placed team would play in the playoff round.

(b) Sevilla win the EL and finish in the top four. In this case, Sevilla would play in the group stage as EL winner, as explained above.  However, Spain would not get a fifth entry in the CL.

(c) Sevilla don't win the EL, and don't finish in the top four. In this case, Spain has four CL entries, the 4th placed team (presumably Valencia) would enter the playoff round, the first three the group stage as usual.

(d) Sevilla don't win the EL, but do finish in the top four. Again, the 4th placed team (presumably Sevilla) will play in the playoff round, the first three in the group stage proper.

From Villarreal's point of view, as well as other teams behind Sevilla, the best outcome would be (a), because that's the only way Spain gets a fifth entry in the CL.  And the reason that's important is because Spain gets three entries--no more, no less--in the Europa League.   Which brings us to....

Europa League:

Important rules to keep in mind:

(1) a national association can have a maximum of three teams in the EL

(2) a club qualifying for the EL but also for the CL goes into the CL

(3) cup winners automatically qualify for the EL.  In the event they also qualify for the CL, then rule (2) applies.  Should the cup winner qualify for the EL by another method (i.e. league placing), then rule (1) applies--Spain doesn't get an "extra" spot.

(4) A new rule this year: if the cup winner qualifies for the CL, then it is not the cup runner-up who claims their EL spot; it's the highest-placed team in the league not otherwise qualified who makes it.

(5) The cupwinner, as well as the 5th placed team from Spain, qualifies directly for the EL group stage.  However, if these places are vacated (we'll see below how they might be), then other Spanish teams could move up.

What does all this mean?  We need to consider the Sevilla scenarios above, but we also have to consider who wins the Copa del Rey final (Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao):

(a) Sevilla win EL, finish outside top four (realistically, fifth)  As explained above, Sevilla and clubs 1-4 all go into the CL.

If Barcelona win the Copa del Rey, they've already qualified for the CL.  The 6th and 7th placed teams in La Liga would qualify directly into the Europa League Group Stage, because two Spanish spots in that stage, the one reserved for Spain's 5th place team and the one reserved for Spain's Cup winner, will be vacant.  The 8th placed team also qualifies for the EL, but goes into the third qualifying round.

If Athletic Club win the cup, they would take one of the two group stage places; the other would go to the 6th place team (if not Athletic Club).  The final Spanish place would go to the highest-placed team in La Liga not already qualified, which could be seventh or eighth depending on where Los Leones finish; this team goes into the third qualifying round.

(b), (c) and (d) can all be considered together, because in each of these cases Spain has only four CL entrants.

If Barcelona wins the cup, then clubs finishing 5th, 6th and 7th in La Liga qualify for the EL.  The 5th and 6th placed teams would go into the group stage, the seventh into the third qualifying round.

If Athletic Club won the cup, they and the 5th placed team go into the group stage, the 6th goes into the third qualifying round, and the 7th team doesn't qualify for Europe (since their spot has been taken by Athletic Club).  Of course, if Athletic Club both win the cup and finish sixth (say), then teams 5 and 7 get in.  Got it?

So from Villarreal's standpoint, the best scenario would be for Valencia to finish fourth, Sevilla to win the Europa League, and Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey.  That way there are eight Spanish teams in Europe, and the teams finishing sixth and seventh go directly into the Europa League group stage (as Villarreal did this year by finishing fifth).

The worst scenario is the one where Sevilla qualify for the CL anyway and Athletic Club wins the Copa.  Then, team #7 is out of luck (unless Athletic Club finishes 6th).

For what it's worth: Villarreal 53, Malaga 47, Athletic Club 46, five games remaining.

It looks to me as if 59 points should be enough to get us over the line; Malaga would need 12 points to get there, and even if they defeated us so owned the tiebreaker, their road form has been quite poor of late so I could see them dropping four points in their other matches.  Athletic Club would need 13 points to tie us, and we have an advantage in the tiebreak at the moment since we won at home 2-0.

However, I must admit unless we can figure out ways to score, we are not going to get to 59 points!!