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How European competitions will work next season, in one easy chart

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Reddit comes through again.

Seville v FC Internazionale - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Ina Fassbender/Pool via Getty Images

Earlier this season, UEFA announced the formation of a new, third tier of European competition: the UEFA Conference League. While nobody really ASKED for something like this nor do I really understand the necessity of it, it’s what we have. For our American readers, think of the Conference League as the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) of European Football, and just like how the Champions League and the Europa League are linked, there will be similar links between Europa and the Conference League.

Along with this new competition are some new rules concerning qualification. This includes the winner of the Carabao Cup now qualifying for the Conference League instead of the Europa League qualifications and a few other tweaks that we won’t get into now.

But if you wondered how the leagues are linked together, there’s a handy chart that was posted on reddit’s /r/soccer forum that distills it all down into something that’s easy to understand. (I don’t know if this originated elsewhere, but I found it on Reddit.) Because I’m a visual learner, I really appreciated how it depicts the information.

Source: user LIS1050010, /r/soccer

The biggest change has to do with league winners in the Europa and Conference Leagues. In both cases, the group winners are granted an automatic bye to the Round of 16, where they will be drawn against the winners of the 2nd place group finishers and the third place finishers of the competition ABOVE them. That means that the Champions League format doesn’t change at all, but winning your Europa League or Conference League group has a pretty significant advantage!

You might think that third place finishers in the Champions League would walk over second place finishers in the Europa League, but that’s not necessarily true. Here’s a chart of what that would look like in the Europa League this season if these rules were currently in place.

2020-21 Champions League C vs. Europa League B

UCL Third Place Finishers Europa Second Place Finishers
UCL Third Place Finishers Europa Second Place Finishers
RB Salzburg Young Boys
Shakhtar Donetsk Molde
Olympiakos Slavia Prague
Ajax Benfica
Krasnodar Granada
Club Brugge Real Sociedad
Dynamo Kyiv Braga
Manchester United Lille
Maccabi Tel Aviv
Antwerp
Wolfsberg
Red Star Belgrade

(Note that the teams don’t line up exactly because at present there are more clubs in the Europa League than in the Champions League; under the new rules there would be 32 clubs participating in each of the three European competitions)

A lot depends on the draw, obviously, but there are some pretty good teams that only managed to finish second in their Europa League group. A matchup between Manchester United and Real Sociedad, or Ajax and Lille, or Salzburg and Benfica would not necessarily favor the Champions League drop-out. It could provide some potentially tasty matchups even before the Europa group winners come into play.

I’m not exactly a fan of adding a new third tier of European competition. Even though it does gives more clubs a chance to play European football, it smacks more as an exercise in getting more money for UEFA than it does altruism for the FC Sherriff Tiraspols or Shamrock Rovers of the world. As a Tottenham Hotspur fan, I also would find it pretty difficult to get excited about participating in the Conference League, should Spurs manage to qualify for it.

However, I do like the new system of rewarding group winners by granting them a bye round and forcing those dropping down a competition to play their way into it. For far too long the Champions League cast-offs have had a pretty easy path by parachuting straight into the knock-out rounds. This makes them, as well as the third place Europa finishers dropping into the Conference League, jump through an extra hoop that may not be as easy as they think. It really emphasizes the need to take the competition seriously and win that group stage.

If this is the direction UEFA is going to go for the next few years (or until the Champions League decides to switch to whatever Swiss Rules thing they’re considering), it’s an improvement over what they have now. What do you think?