How to Qualify For Europe – an Update


As the SPL approaches its climax, it’s time to have a look at what clubs need to do to qualify for Europe this season.  Due to poor performances in Europe between 2007/08 and 2011/12, Scotland will have four teams in Europe rather than the five teams which took part last season.  Some of these teams will enter earlier than they did in previous seasons too.

Champions League

The SPL champions will enter next season’s Champions League.  Celtic are almost certain to take up that spot, and will enter in the 2nd Qualifying Round – a round earlier than they did last year.  That means they will have to progress through three qualifying rounds in order to make the group stage.  However, just like this season, they will only face champions of smaller countries, avoiding the 3rd and 4th placed sides from bigger nations.  In theory, that should give them an easier route to the group stage.  Their impressive performances in this season’s Champions League mean that it is almost certain that they will be seeded in each of their three qualifying rounds.

Europa League

Scotland will have three Europa League spots next season – two for the SPL, plus one for the Scottish Cup.  Hibs will take up the Scottish Cup spot regardless of the outcome of the final, because opponents Celtic will take part in the Champions League next season.  Hibs will be joined in the Europa League by the sides finishing 2nd and 3rd in this season’s SPL.

One of the three sides will enter the Europa League at the 3rd Qualifying Round, meaning they would have to win two ties to reach the Group Stage.  The other two sides will enter at the 2nd Qualifying Round and will have to win three ties to get to the Group Stage.  Exactly which clubs enter at which stage depends on the outcome of the Scottish Cup final.

If Hibs win the Scottish Cup

  • Hibs will enter the 3rd Qualifying Round.
  • 2nd and 3rd in the SPL will enter the 2nd Qualifying Round.

If Celtic win the Scottish Cup

  • 2nd in the SPL will enter the the 3rd Qualifying Round
  • Hibs and 3rd in the SPL will enter the 2nd Qualifying Round.

Post-Split Fixtures – A Prediction

After some late drama in the last round of pre-split fixtures, we now know who will be playing in the top and bottom halves of the SPL for the final five matches of the season.  The SPL will announce the post-split fixtures on Monday, and as usual we can expect some form of controversy, with some clubs having to visit a certain ground for a third time.  This is an unfortunate consequence of the current split set-up, because it can mean that there is not complete equality in the fixture lists faced by competing clubs.  The SPL attempt to avoid this by “seeding” the pre-split fixtures based on clubs’ finishes in the previous season, but the top six has never actually been the same in two consecutive seasons.  This season’s SPL has a particularly topsy turvy look, with Inverness and Ross County unexpectedly making the top six.  It is very difficult to second guess the SPL when it comes to the post-split fixtures, but here’s how I think the remaining fixtures may look.

Top 6

Top 6 due fixturesThe table on the right shows the number of home games each of the top six sides are due in order to take them to the “perfect” 19 homes and 19 aways.  As you can see, three of the sides are due two more home matches, while three of the sides are due three more home matches.  That means that every team should be able to get the perfect balance of fixtures, and no team will be left with a lop-sided schedule of 20 homes and 18 aways or vice versa.

However, it is also clear that it will not be possible to accomodate every team in terms of giving them home matches against the sides they would “expect” to face based on the pre-split fixtures.  For example, Celtic have only played Motherwell, Inverness, St Johnstone and Ross County once at home so far this season, and therefore each of these teams would theoretically be due a second trip to Celtic Park rather than a home game against Neil Lennon’s side.  However, with Celtic only being due two more home matches, two of those fixtures will have to be “flipped”, with Celtic making a third trip to two of the aforementioned clubs.  The same is true for most of the other clubs, with only St Johnstone having the possibility of getting the exact fixtures they would “expect”.

In my opinion, the most obvious solution is to ask Celtic to face Ross County and Motherwell away from home for a third time and to have Dundee United making the trip to Inverness for a third time.   That would produce the fixture list outlined in the table below.  This is still not going to prove universally popular – Celtic fans may not be best pleased at having to make a third trip to Dingwall, even if it is slightly balanced out by a short journey to Motherwell.  However, there is no perfect solution to this problem.

Top 6 predicted fixtures

Bottom 6

Bottom 6 due fixturesThe bottom six sides have similar issues.  The table on the right shows the games which each of the sides are “due”, and yet again it will not be possible to construct a perfect fixture list.  Again, each team will be able to have 19 home games for the season, but some teams will have to make a third trip to a certain stadium.

The best solution may be to send St Mirren to Rugby Park for a third time, which would presumably be preferable to a third trip to Dens Park or Pittodrie for the Buddies.  Aberdeen’s extra home game could be provided by an additional visit from Hearts, while Hibs would make up their nineteen home matches by welcoming Dundee to Easter Road for a third time.  That would leave the fixture list below.

Bottom 6 predicted fixtures