Liverpool know that if they win the Europa League next Wednesday, they will be entered into the group stages of next season’s Champions League. The only way that would not have been the case is if an English team that hadn’t qualified for the group stages of next season’s Champions League won this season’s Champions League, earning themselves a group stage berth in the process and devaluing the Europa League’s.
When Manchester City were knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid last week, that scenario—where City won the Champions League but finished in a Champions League playoff or Europa place in the league—stopped being one the Reds had to worry about. So on that front at least, the equation is simple. Win the Europa League, and Liverpool are straight into the group stages of next season’s Champions League.
What happens, though, if Liverpool can’t stop Sevilla from winning their third Europa League in a row? There’s nothing to be gained for simply making it to the Europa League final—no prize of, say, a Europa League berth for making it this far—which means that if Liverpool don’t win, they could end up out of Europe entirely next season. After the excitement of their run in the Europa League this year, that would be tough to swallow.
It also means that league finish could still be an important insurance policy for the Reds, but as always seems to be the case, nothing about the scenarios is especially straightforward. However, things have been made a little easier this year by a change to the rules of the FA Cup. In past seasons, that competition’s Europa League spot could pass to the runners-up if the winner was already qualified. This year, that is no longer the case.
- Fifth in the Premier League enters the Europa League group stage
- The FA Cup winner enters the Europa League group stage
- The League Cup winner enters in the third qualifying round
As Things Stand:
- Manchester United have three points and a game in hand over sixth-place Southampton, almost certainly locking up at least fifth in the league for United.
- Manchester United face Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final on May 21st. If they win, the spot goes to the league. If Palace win, they’re in Europe.
- Manchester City have won the League Cup, and as they will qualify for Europe through the league, that Europa League spot falls to the league.
If Manchester United Win The FA Cup:
Fifth and sixth in the league enter the Europa League group stages, while seventh enter at the third qualifying round.
If Crystal Palace Win The FA Cup:
Fifth in the league enters the Europa League group stages, as do Crystal Palace, while sixth in the league enter at the third qualifying round.
What If Manchester City Finish Fifth?
In the unlikely scenario that Manchester United pip City for fourth, nothing changes as far as the clubs finishing in sixth and seventh are concerned.
What It All Means For Liverpool:
If Liverpool can move up to sixth—and right now they’re two points off Southampton in sixth with a game in hand and one off West Ham in seventh having played the same number of games—they’re guaranteed a place in the Europa League next year, though whether that’s a group stage place or qualification place won't be decided until United face Palace in the FA Cup final a few days after Liverpool face Sevilla in Basel.
If Liverpool finish in seventh, they would probably make it into next season’s Europa League qualification rounds, as United are favourites to defeat Palace and win the FA Cup. However, the third qualification round brings with it complications that make it less than ideal: it means interrupting pre-season to play a pair of qualifiers in late July or early August, when Liverpool are scheduled to be on their pre-season North American tour.
For many, in that scenario they might prefer Liverpool not make Europe at all and instead be free to focus only on the league. Even finishing sixth could end up with an early qualifier should Palace win the FA Cup. Still, for those looking to the league as a fallback to winning in Basel, sixth—which Liverpool have a real shot at if they win their final two games—has to be the goal.