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Why sixth place may not qualify Villarreal for the Europa League next season

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The UEFA Conference League has changed everything.

Villarreal v Salzburg - UEFA Europa League Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Next season, UEFA will introduce the UEFA Conference League, a third tier of European competition designed to... well let’s just be cynical, it’s designed to make UEFA more money. Over the course of this past week, a discussion came up about qualification for that league and how it impacted the current structure. I went to the (usually reliable) Wikipedia to find out how it all worked and found this:

wikipedia.com

As you’ll see, for “associations 1-4” the sixth place side ends up in the UEFA Conference, not in the Europa League. Association numbers here refer to a league’s standing in the UEFA Coefficients, and Spain is atop those standings, making them “association 1”. The assignment of Spain’s European places then proceeds as follows: Top 4 go to the Champions League, 5th and the Copa Winner go to the Europa League, and 6 qualifies for the UEFA Conference.

This became, in my estimation, particularly relevant after yesterday. Real Sociedad going out of the competition means that our primary competitor for 5th place- who we are already four points behind- now has fewer big matches to worry about than we do for the rest of the season as we battle it out with Real Betis (who also only has one competition left) for 6th.

As experienced watchers of European football will know, the variable here is that Copa Winner Europa League slot. If the Copa Del Rey is won by a team who has already qualified for Europe in slots 1-5, the Copa winner slot will then go to the next highest rated team in the table- the sixth place team. This would make 7th place the UEFA Conference position.

As things currently stand in the Copa, one of the semi-finals will produce a club already in the top 5, the other will not, and if Levante or Athletic Club were to climb all the way into the top five it probably means the seasons of several clubs ahead of them (including us) have fallen apart anyway. That leaves Villarreal fans rooting for the winner of the Barcelona/Sevilla tie in the Copa Del Rey final. (Though the idea of wanting Barcelona to win any football match is one I don’t particularly like, so hopefully Sevilla hangs on to their lead.)

The doomsday scenario would be Levante or Athletic Club winning the Copa Del Rey and us falling to 7th and thereby out of Europe entirely.

What would be interesting to hear is our reader’s opinions on playing in the UEFA Conference vs playing in the Europa League. After travel expenses, win bonuses, and the like, we don’t too terribly much money playing in Europa, so it is mostly a difference in prestige. For me personally, the difference is largely about expectations. If we found ourselves in the UEFA Conference, that’s a tournament I would expect Unai Emery to win. No exceptions. If we’re in the Europa League, it’s a tournament I think we could win but depending on the draw I could accept less.

Regardless of which competition we find ourselves in, the knockout format will be different than what we’ve experienced in the past. Group winners in both lower competitions will go straight to the round of 16, and the 8 teams that drop down from either the Champions League or Europa will play against the second place teams from the groups in the competition they drop into. That part, at least, is an improvement as far as I am concerned.

Okay friends, I’ve dumped a bunch of information in here. What do you think of this new tournament? How would you feel about Villarreal playing in it? What do you think about the format changes to the existing tournaments? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: The simplest bypass of all this confusion is simply winning the Europa League. Do that and we go to the Champions League groups stages next year even if we don’t earn another La Liga point all season.