Post-Split Fixtures 2013/14

With the top 6 decided at a relatively early stage, the SPFL now have the unenviable task of deciding the post-split fixtures.  There has yet to be any announcement about when these fixtures will be released, but hopefully it is as early as possible to give supporters more time to make travel plans.  The only conceivable reason for a delay would be to wait and see whether Hibs are dragged into the relegation battle, which may alter the bottom six fixture scheduling and could affect the choice of TV games.

There is always a bit of controversy surrounding the fixtures, and this year appears to be particularly complex, especially for the top six.  The ideal scenario is that each club will have 19 home matches and 19 away matches, and that they will finish the season with two home and two away matches against each other side in their half of league.  However this very rarely comes to fruition, and yet again this season we have a situation where compromises will have to be made to even up the fixture list.

 

Top 6

Top6dueThe 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” tally of 19 homes and 19 aways.  However, as you can see four of the six sides are “due” three home matches, which means one of the sides is bound to miss out and will end up finishing the season with just 18 home matches and 20 away from home.

The table also shows the teams who each side are due to play at home so that they would have faced each top six opponent twice at home and twice away.  Again, you can see that it is not practical to maintain an even home/away fixture split for each side.  That means that some fixtures will have to be “switched”, and some clubs will face a third away trip to a particular away venue.

In my opinion, Aberdeen will be the side who will lose out by having just 18 home games this season.  They have benefited from having 20 home games and just 18 away matches on three previous occasions (2005/06, 2007/08 and 2009/10) and have only had 18 homes and 20 aways on one occasion (2004/05), while none of the other top 6 sides have an imbalance in their favour.  In the interests of balance, it would therefore seem entirely fair that the Dons get the extra away match this season.

The only counter-argument to that is the fact that the Dons are involved in the battle for 2nd place, and that they would be disadvantaged by having fewer home matches than Motherwell.  However it should be noted that the Dons have the best away record in the division (outside of Celtic) and may not be too affected as a result.  If keeping fixture balance between sides battling for a particular league place is considered more important than evening out historical imbalances, then the logical conclusion would be that Celtic are given the extra away game given that they will have nothing to play for.  However, there was a similar situation in 2011/12, when Celtic had the title all but wrapped up while St Johnstone were in a European battle, and it was Saints who were given the extra away game in order to even things out after having been given 20 homes and 18 aways in 2001/02.

Some fixtures will also have to be “switched” to ensure that every side other than the Dons end up with 19 homes and 19 aways.  Aberdeen still need an 18th home match from somewhere, while Inverness need an extra away game, so it makes sense to send John Hughes’ side to Pittodrie for a third time.  Celtic need to find an extra home game from somewhere, while Motherwell need an additional away trip, so Stuart McCall and his side may face a third trip to Celtic Park – this would also even things up after Celtic visited Fir Park three times last season.  Finally, Dundee Utd need an extra home game, while St Johnstone need an extra away game, so Saints could be sent to Tannadice again – this would even things up after Dundee Utd visited McDiarmid Park three times in 2011/12.

Based on that logic, this is how I see the fixtures shaping up in the top six.  I would also expect to see the Aberdeen v Motherwell and Inverness v Dundee Utd matches to be scheduled for the final day of the season to increase the chances of having a “winner takes all” match for TV.

Top6fixtures

Bottom 6

As you might have worked out, if the make up of Bottom6duetop six requires one side to have 18 homes and 20 aways, then that means that someone in the bottom six gets the benefit of 20 games at home and just 18 away.  The table on the right shows who is due what after the split.

The battle for the relegation play-off spot currently involves Killie, Partick Thistle, Ross County and St Mirren, but Hibs could still be sucked into it if their form doesn’t improve.  That leaves Hearts as the only side who will have absolutely nothing to play for post-split.  Ideally, you would like to give them the extra home game to avoid any controversy, but that would mean giving them four home matches after the split, and would also disrupt the balance of fixtures in the relegation play-off battle (assuming the Edinburgh derby won’t be switched).

The most straightforward option would be to give Hibs the extra home game.  This would mean that every pair of clubs would be balanced in terms of having two homes and two aways against each other.  Hibs would be handed a slight advantage in the relegation play-off battle, but given their home record (only four wins so far this season), it’s hardly a gamechanger.  If Hearts were to be given an extra home game, the most likely way of achieving this would be to send St Mirren to Tynecastle for a third time, have either Killie or Partick Thistle visit Paisley again and then have Hibs make a third visit to either Rugby Park or Firhill.

Assuming the SPFL choose the former option by giving Hibs the extra game, here are my predicted fixtures for the bottom six.  It’s hard to decide what fixtures will be chosen for the final day, because it’s hard to predict right now which sides will be involved at the end.

Bottom6fixtures

European Spots (2013/14)

 

As the season approaches its climax, it’s time to have a look at the qualification situation for next season’s European competitions.  Like last season, Scotland will have four spots in Europe.  However, due to the extremely high scoring 2007/08 season having dropped off the coefficient list, some of these teams will enter earlier than they did last season.  The main damage to the coefficient was done by the very poor score in 2008/09, which thankfully will drop off after this season is complete.

Champions League

Premiership champions Celtic will be the only Scottish side to enter next season’s Champions League, and will enter in the 2nd Qualifying Round – the same stage as this season.  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.  As I discussed here, that should give them an easier route to the group stage.  Their good performances over the last two Champions League campaigns mean that it is almost certain that they will be seeded in each of their three qualifying rounds.

Europa League

There are 3 Europa League places available for Scottish clubs.  These spots will be allocated to the Scottish Cup winners and the sides finishing 2nd and 3rd in the Premiership.  If the Scottish Cup winners also qualify for the Europa League via their league position, then the additional place will go to the 4th placed side in the Premiership.

There is always confusion about whether the runners-up in the Scottish Cup would qualify for Europe if the Scottish Cup winners qualify via their league place.  UEFA’s rules state that if the cup winners qualify for the Champions League, then the runners-up take the Europa League spot, but if the cup winners qualify for the Europa League then the extra spot goes to the league.  So last season, Hibs qualified for Europe after finishing as Scottish Cup runners-up, because Celtic qualified for the Champions League.  But the previous season, Hibs did not qualify for Europe as Scottish Cup runners-up, because Hearts only qualified for the Europa League via their league position.

This season, Celtic will take the Champions League spot, and they are already eliminated from the Scottish Cup.  Therefore there will be no spot available for the Scottish Cup runners-up.  If the Scottish Cup winners have already qualified for Europe via their league position, then the extra spot will go to the side who finish in 4th.

To sum all that up:

  • Scottish Cup winners will qualify.
  • 2nd and 3rd in the Premiership will definitely qualify.
  • 4th in the Premiership will only qualify if the Scottish Cup winners also qualify for Europe via the league.

The Scottish Cup winners and the 2nd placed side in the Premiership will enter at the 2nd Qualifying Round, while the 3rd placed side in the Premiership will have to enter in the 1st Qualifying Round (which kicks off on 3rd July, 10 days before the World Cup is finished!).  If the Scottish Cup winners also finish 2nd, then the 3rd placed side would enter in QR2 and the 4th placed side would enter in QR1.