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UEFA: European qualification should be decided on “sporting merit”

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What does that mean? Who knows!

UEFA Congress
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin
Photo by Lukas Schulze - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Nobody has decided yet what to do about the end of the 2020-21 football season, but that hasn’t stopped UEFA from continuing to meet to talk about it. There were further crisis talks today to discuss various end-of-season scenarios, and while (again) the can was liberally kicked down the road, there was a healthy discussion about what to do if major leagues end up getting cancelled, like the Eredivisie or Belgium’s Jupiler League.

Both of these leagues regularly have clubs that participate in European competition, either in the Champions League, Europa League, or both. Since both of them have now ended their seasons and it’s quite likely that other leagues will follow before all is said and done, UEFA has to figure out how to deal with European competition qualification.

Pursuant to that end, UEFA has now stated that they want qualification to be determined by “sporting merit.”

The problem is that nobody has the foggiest idea of what they mean by that phrase, though it suggests that they wouldn’t just take the clubs that qualified the last time around. Does it mean taking the tables as they were when the leagues shut down and using that as the basis for competition qualification? Does it mean points per game as Martin Ziegler supposes? Or something else? Who knows!

Our colleagues just down the road at SB Nation Towers, Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey, have come up with an idea that they think would be a fair and equitable way to allow for sporting merit-based qualification: order teams based upon their results based on one match per other league team, i.e. 19 games instead of 38. For clubs that have already played other clubs twice before the shutdown, they’d get to choose the most favorable result for calculating the final table. Tally up the points and the goal differential, and use that to determine who makes it to Europe.

Royal Blue Mersey also, helpfully, did the calculations for the Premier League according to this plan, and frankly it’d be very good news for Tottenham Hotspur. First, here would be Tottenham’s best results against all 19 other Premier League teams for purposes of calculation:

That would result in the following table, according to RBM:

Liverpool still wins the league because obviously, but Spurs would leapfrog both Wolves and Sheffield United to jump up to sixth in this modified table. That’s still behind Chelsea and Manchester United, but good enough to qualify for the Europa League next season.

Spurs were extremely affected by injuries just before football shut down, and there’s a line of thinking that suggests they may be better off if football restarts, as they’ll almost certainly begin matches again with both Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min healthy. That might give them a fighting chance at fifth place, which would mean Champions League qualification assuming that Manchester City’s ban holds. But if the season shuts down entirely, this wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

It should be pointed out that nobody’s actually talking about this as a serious possibility — it’s RBM’s proposal to finish the season with “sporting merit.” However, it certainly feels fair and equitable — and not just because Spurs are positively affected, Arsenal drop from 9th to 14th place, and West Ham get relegated.

What do you think of this plan?