England could have FIVE sides in Europe’s elite competition, but it is still possible that the team that finishes fourth in the Premier League might NOT be one of them
Manchester United could be denied the chance to play in the Champions League next season even if they finish in the top four in the Premier League.
Since replacing Jose Mourinho in December, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has turned the Red Devils’ season around and put them back in contention to qualify for Europe’s elite competition.
But despite the Norwegian’s sterling efforts, he may be cruelly denied a place in the UCL by UEFA regulations.
England could have five teams in the Champions League next season, but it is still possible that the team that finishes fourth may not be one of them.
UEFA qualification rules allocate four automatic group stage spots to the four best-performing countries over the past five years.
Spain, with five straight Champions League wins as well as four of the last five Europa League crowns, are well on top, but England are significantly clear in second of the chasing group and safe with four slots for at least the next few seasons.
However, a rule change after the 2014-15 season means the winners of the Europa League automatically gain a place in Europe’s top competition – in the same way the winners of the Champions League always have done.
However, the maximum number of places any country can have in the Champions League is five.
With Liverpool and Manchester City fighting it out for the title, they seem set to take the top two spaces.
Spurs’ hold on third is looking extremely insecure after their week of wobbles, with Arsenal whittling away a 10-point gap down to just four.
And Tottenham fans will grimace and remember how they were denied a place in the Champions League, despite finishing fourth.
In 2012 Harry Redknapp’s men finished fourth but were shunted into the Europa League after Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena to lift the prestigious trophy.
Chelsea, as holders, took their place as countries were only allowed four representatives.
Martin Lipton of The Sun explained how the stipulation could mean United missing out on a seat at Europe’s top table.
He wrote: “Since then, UEFA have changed the regulations to allow a fifth team – but ONLY if the Champions league or Europa League winners do not qualify through their domestic championship.
“If Manchester United or Spurs were to win the Champions League but finish outside the top four, they would be top seeds in the competition next season.
“Likewise, should Arsenal or Chelsea win the Europa League and not make the top four, they would also go into the Champions League.
“Just suppose the title race finished: 1 Manchester City; 2 Liverpool; 3 Chelsea; 4 Manchester United but that the two North London sides won their respective European trophies.
“It would mean the top three being joined by Spurs and Arsenal – both as top seeds – with United missing out.
“The other Europa League slot would either go to the FA Cup winners (if they are not a top four side) or the team finishing seventh in the Prem.
“Unlikely? Yes. And it could all become academic within a few weeks.
“For the moment, though, it remains a possibility. And a slight worry for fans of at least four clubs…”