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Premier League top-four race: does fifth place qualify if Manchester City win the Champions League?

Pep Guardiola’s men take on Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the 2022-23 tournament. How will the Premier League be affected if they win it?

Pep Guardiola’s men take on Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the 2022-23 tournament. How will the Premier League be affected if they win it?
PAUL CHILDSAction Images via Reuters

The Premier League title race isn’t quite over just yet, with Arsenal bouncing back to form with a convincing win over Chelsea, which at least went some way to restoring confidence after a poor recent run, including a damaging 4-1 reverse at the hands of Manchester City. Whatever happens between now at 28 May, the Gunners at least assured of a place in the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.

The assumption for most, however, is that Pep Guardiola’s red-hot side will now cruise to the title and attention has turned to the race to finish in the much-vaunted ‘top four’ in order to qualify for the Champions League, which sadly seems to be viewed as more of an achievement these days than actually lifting a domestic trophy, other than the league title itself.

What happens if Manchester City win the Champions League?

Champions League qualification is also already in the bag in the bag for City, who have bigger fish to fry, namely winning this season’s edition for the very first time. They’ll have to do it the hard way, though, having been drawn to face defending Real Madrid in the semi-finals. But let’s imagine they get past the Spaniards and go on to lift the trophy in Istanbul by defeating either Milan or Inter in the final. How would that affect Champions League qualification in the Premier League for everyone else?

Which Premier League teams are in the Champions League race?

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, the top four teams from the Premier League all go directly into the group stages. Arsenal and City are already in, which means there are realistically four teams fighting it out for the remaining two spots: Newcastle (65 points, played 33) and Manchester United (63 points, played 33) look to be in strong positions, ahead of Liverpool (59 points, played 34) and Brighton (55 points, played 32).

Spurs (54 points, played 34) and Aston Villa (54 points, played 34) can mathematically still just about get there but nobody will be putting their house on them sneaking in.

However, the Red Devils drew at Spurs and then suffered a late defeat to Brighton on Thursday, which has reeled them back towards the pack slightly. Erik Ten Hag’s side will be nervous about Liverpool’s recent resurgence, with Jürgen Klopp’s men having won five games in a row ahead of a relatively kind run-in. Brighton, on the other hand, still have to gave Arsenal, City and Newcastle in their remaining games.

Would fifth place be enough to qualify for the Champions League?

And that is exactly what they need to do to reach next season’s Champions League, regardless of whether City win this season’s competition or not. Unlike in previous seasons, if a club finishes in the top four and wins the Champions League, their spot in the next edition is not taken by the next highest team in the same league who hasn’t already qualified.

Instead, City’s place in the 2023-24 group stages would go to the champions of the highest-ranked country in the UEFA coefficient who don’t already have an automatic group stage qualifier. As things stand, the Ukrainian champions would go straight into next season’s group stage rather than have to play a qualifier.

How can more than four teams from the same league qualify for the Champions League?

The only way that more than four Premier League teams could have qualified for next season’s Champions League would have been if English clubs not finishing in the top four had won either the Champions League or the Europa League (the winners get a Champions League group stage place). A scenario which could’ve played out before Chelsea and Manchester United were eliminated from the respective competitions.

However, that wouldn’t have meant six Premier League clubs in next year’s Champions League. UEFA rules state that a maximum of five clubs from the same country can play in the competition. Had that happened, the European winners would have been given priority and the team finishing fourth in the English top flight would’ve dropped down into the Europa League.


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