Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw in Barcelona, which saw ten-men Chelsea FC go through to the Champions League final 3-2 on aggregate, has been has been attributed to “the heroism that went into a night of rare achievement and glory.” Chelsea will face Bayern Munich in, coincidentally, Munich and again will be underdogs. Remember, Chelsea was not expected to get past Napoli at the time let alone Barcelona ever. And if Chelsea’s season of fortune and wonder continues, they will end up the Champions of Europe. Chelsea, currently at sixth place in the Premier League standings, could also fail to finish high enough in the table to qualify for the tournament next season. What then?
UEFA allows the top four Premier League teams to qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea would not be the first English team to win the Champions League yet still finish out of the top four. Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005, but finished fifth in the Premier League table. UEFA made special dispensation for the Reds at that time, and five English teams qualified for the 2005-2006 Champions League season. Afterwards, UEFA permanently changed the rules to allow the champion to defend their title even if they do not otherwise finish the domestic league in a qualifying spot. Simply making it to the final, however, is not enough. A team out of the qualifying spots for the Champions League can only qualify if they win the final.
Thus, Chelsea will qualify for the Champions League if they beat Bayern Munich in the final even if they finish in fifth place or below in the Premier League. In this situation, Chelsea will qualify for the Champions League at the expense of other teams in the Premier League whose fans will undoubtedly be rooting for Bayern. For example, only the top three Premier League teams will qualify for the Champions League next season, and the third-place team must go through the now-competitive playoff round before they can enter the group stage. This indignation previously had been reserved just for the fourth-place team in England. The fourth-place team unfortunately will be bumped from the Champions League. As a consolation, the fourth-place team will qualify for European competition in the less prestigious Europa League, which is otherwise reserved for England’s fifth-place team. If Chelsea win the final and finishes in sixth-place or below, the fifth-place team will be bumped from European competition altogether in favor of Liverpool who have already qualified for the Europa League by virtue of winning the Football League Cup.
Chelsea are currently four points behind fourth-place Newcastle United and one point behind fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur with four games to play. Chelsea host Newcastle on May 2, and a win at home could certainly help their chances of getting into European competition the old fashioned way. Newcastle are on a six-game winning streak, but their remaining schedule is difficult. In addition to traveling to Chelsea, the Magpies will host title contenders Manchester City in their penultimate game, and they must travel to Everton to play the season finale.
Tottenham are just barely hanging on to fifth place. They have taken only 6 points out of their last possible 27 and were soundly defeated in the FA Cup semifinal game by Chelsea 5-1. Tottenham’s next two opponents, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, sit just inside the relegation zone and need wins for survival.
Third-place Arsenal is three points ahead of Newcastle but with one less game to play. Arsenal have done almost as well as Newcastle lately and have taken 28 points out of their last possible 33. If Newcastle can finish at least level with Arsenal with a superior goal difference, the Gunners could be headed for the Europa League.
Either Manchester City or Manchester United will win the Premier League, and the other will be runners-up. No other team can catch them, and they are the only teams now certain for the Champions League.
Liverpool can be certain of a spot in the Europa League if they win the FA Cup next weekend. But unless Chelsea finishes fourth, the others teams will not be certain of whether they will enter the Champions League at the playoff level, be bumped from the Champions League, or be out of Europe until all of us find out if Chelsea win the Champions League.