The Premier League’s competitive nature ensures no club has a divine right to Champions League qualification. When established Spanish, Italian or German outfits suffer a below-par season, they tend to retain their status among Europe’s elite – the same cannot be said in England.
Newcastle’s success in 2022-23 banished several global heavyweights to the continental fringes for the current campaign. Liverpool, the nation’s most successful European club, are competing in the Europa League, while Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur missed out altogether.
Toon supporters had hoped fifth place might be enough to repeat last year’s heroics, with controversial – albeit favourable to Newcastle – changes on the horizon. Amendments to the fresh structure will allow an extra Champions League place for the two best-performing nations across UEFA competition this season.
A league table is compiled throughout the campaign, with clubs earning their respective nations points for wins and progressing to the latter stages of the competition. Given the Premier League’s might, England were widely tipped to secure one of those positions come May.
But the script has not gone exactly to plan so far…
As it stands, England are fifth – with Turkey and Belgium leading the charge. Manchester United have fared the worst so far, sitting rock bottom of a group which looked straightforward on paper. The Magpies, too, sit at the foot of Group F and face daunting clashes against Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund.
Brighton have hardly set the Europa League alight while Liverpool and Arsenal are partially culpable with losses to Toulouse and Sevilla. Unsurprisingly, only Manchester City have performed at their dominating best with four consecutive Champions League wins.
It should be noted that English clubs will be favoured to rack up coefficient points once each competition reaches its latter stages. Even Unai Emery, for example, is an expert in European competition and has Aston Villa well-placed for a successful Conference League run.
But the latest UEFA ranking should serve as a telling reminder not to get complacent on top five being the answer. If Newcastle want to guarantee their relationship with Champions League football as a marriage – not a fling – fourth spot must be the goal.
Whether fans should root for fellow English clubs in Europe has always been a contentious issue. But the great irony is how supporters may no longer have a choice. Newcastle could be cheering on a Manchester City or an Arsenal – and vice versa – during the final throes of the campaign, all in the name of those illustrious, long-acclaimed coefficient points…
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