League Cup Group Stage

The final group stage matches of the 2015/16 League Cup will be played this weekend, and 11 of the 12 qualification spots are still up for grabs.  Rangers (the only Premiership side to have played all 4 matches) are the only side who have already secured progression to the next round.

Group Winners

The 8 group winners will be guaranteed a spot in the next round of the competition.

A total of 18 clubs still have a theoretical chance of winning their group, and the permutations required for each club are listed below.  Note that ludicrously unlikely permutations of results have been placed in italics.

Group A

East Fife are top of the group with 8 points, but have already played all of their matches.  Peterhead or Forfar Athletic could still overhaul them.

East Fife will win the group if:

  • Peterhead fail to beat Dumbarton (A) and Forfar fail to beat Dundee (A)
  • Peterhead fail to beat Dumbarton (A) and Forfar beat Dundee (A) 1-0.

 

Peterhead will win the group if:

  • Peterhead win against Dumbarton (A)
  • Peterhead earn 2 points against Dumbarton (A) AND Forfar fail to beat Dundee.
  • Peterhead earn 2 points against Dumbarton (A) AND Forfar beat Dundee by a one goal margin.
  • Peterhead earn 2 points against Dumbarton (A) AND Forfar beat Dundee by a two goal margin AND Peterhead score at least the same number of goals as Forfar on Saturday.

 

Forfar Athletic will win the group if:

  • Forfar win against Dundee (A) by any scoreline other than 1-0 AND Peterhead take 1 point or fewer against Dumbarton (A).
  • Forfar win against Dundee (A) by a two goal margin AND Peterhead earn no more than 2 points against Dumbarton (A) and Forfar score more goals than Peterhead on Saturday.
  • Forfar win against Dundee (A) by a margin of 3 goals or more AND Peterhead earn no more than 2 points against Dumbarton (A).

 

 

Group B

St Johnstone currently lead the way with 7 points, ahead of Stirling Albion (6) and Brechin City (5).

St Johnstone will win the group if:

  • St Johnstone beat Stirling Albion (H).
  • St Johnstone earn 2 points against Stirling Albion (H)
  • St Johnstone earn 1 point against Stirling Albion (H) AND Brechin City take 2 points or fewer against Falkirk (A).
  • St Johnstone earn 1 point against Stirling Albion (H) AND Brechin City beat Falkirk (A) by a margin of 5 goals or fewer.
  • St Johnstone earn 1 point against Stirling Albion (H) AND Brechin City beat Falkirk (A) by a margin of 6 goals AND (Goals scored by Brechin – Goals scored by St Johnstone) < 2.

 

Stirling Albion will win the group if:

  • Stirling Albion beat St Johnstone (A).

 

Brechin City will win the group if:

  • Brechin City beat Falkirk (A) by a margin of 7 goals or more AND Stirling Albion defeat St Johnstone (A) on penalties.
  • Brechin City beat Falkirk (A) by a margin of 6 goals or more AND Stirling Albion defeat St Johnstone (A) on penalties AND Brechin score at least 2 more goals than St Johnstone.

 

Group C

Inverness Caledonian Thistle (7 points) currently lead the table by virtue of having scored more away goals than Dundee United (7 points).  Dunfermline (6 points) are in third place, and can still win the group.

Inverness will win the group if:

  • Inverness beat Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United fail to beat Dunfermline (H).
  • Inverness beat Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United beat Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness record a bigger winning margin than Dundee United.
  • Inverness beat Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United beat Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness record the same winning margin as Dundee United AND Inverness score at least as many goals as Dundee United.
  • Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a margin of 2 goals or fewer.
  • Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a margin of 3 goals AND Inverness score as many goals as Dunfermline.
  • Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a 3-0 scoreline AND Inverness score at least 2 goals.
  • Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United earn 1 point against Dunfermline (H).
  • Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United earn 2 points against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness score at least the same number of goals as Dundee United.
  • Inverness earn 1 point against Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United earn 1 point against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness score at least the same number of goals as Dundee United.

 

Dundee United will win the group if:

  • Dundee United beat Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness fail to beat Arbroath (H).
  • Dundee United beat Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness beat Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United have a larger winning margin than Inverness.
  • Dundee United beat Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness beat Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United have the same winning margin as Inverness AND Dundee United score more goals than Inverness.
  • Dundee United earn 2 points against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness earn 1 point or fewer against Arbroath (H).
  • Dundee United earn 2 points against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness earn 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United score more goals than Inverness.
  • Dundee United earn 1 point against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness lose to Arbroath (H).
  • Dundee United earn 1 point against Dunfermline (H) AND Inverness earn 1 point against Arbroath (H) AND Dundee United score more goals than Inverness.

 

Dunfermline Athletic will win the group if:

  • Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) AND Inverness take 1 point or fewer against Arbroath (H).
  • Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a margin of at least 4 goals AND Inverness take 2 points against Arbroath (H).
  • Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a 3 goal margin AND Inverness take 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dunfermline score at least 2 more goals than Inverness.
  • Dunfermline beat Dundee United (A) by a 3 goal margin AND Inverness take 2 points against Arbroath (H) AND Dunfermline score exactly one more goal than Inverness AND Dunfermline score at least 4 goals.

 

Note that, no matter what happens in other matches, both Inverness and Dundee United can guarantee progression to the next round by winning their respective matches.  10 points is enough to guarantee one of the best runner-up spots.

 

Group D

Alloa Athletic lead the group with 9 points and face a winner takes all clash with second placed Raith Rovers (8 points).

Alloa Athletic will win the group if:

  • Alloa avoid defeat against Raith Rovers (A).

 

Raith Rovers will win the group if:

  • Raith Rovers beat Alloa (H).

 

Note that if Raith defeat Alloa on penalties, then both sides would have 10 points.  Alloa would win the group on goal difference, but Raith would be guaranteed progression to the next round as one of the best runners-up.

 

Group E

Partick Thistle lead the way with 9 points and only Queen of the South (6) can catch them.

Partick Thistle will win the group if:

  • Partick Thistle avoid defeat against Queen’s Park (H).
  • Partick Thistle lose to Queen’s Park (H) AND Queen of the South fail to beat Stenhousemuir (H).
  • Partick Thistle lose to Queen’s Park (H) by a one goal margin AND Queen of the South beat Stenhousemuir (H) by a one goal margin AND (Goals scored by Queens – Goals scored by Thistle) < 3.

 

Queen of the South will win the group if:

  • Queen of the South beat Stenhousemuir (H) AND Partick Thistle lose to Queen’s Park (H) AND there is at least a 3 goal swing in terms of goal difference.
  • Queen of the South beat Stenhousemuir (H) by a one goal margin AND Partick Thistle lose to Queen’s Park (H) by a one goal margin AND Queen of the South score at least 3 more goals than Partick Thistle.

 

Group F

Rangers have already secured Group F with 12 points.

 

Group G

Ayr United lead the group with 9 points, but have already played all of their matches.  Hamilton and St Mirren are both on 6 points with one game remaining.

Ayr United will win the group if:

  • Hamilton fail to beat Livingston (H) AND St Mirren fail to beat Edinburgh City (H).
  • Hamilton fail to beat Livingston (H) AND St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) by a margin of 3 goals or fewer.

 

Hamilton Accies will win the group if:

  • Hamilton beat Livingston (H) AND St Mirren fail to beat Edinburgh City (H).
  • Hamilton beat Livingston (H) AND St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) AND (St Mirren’s winning margin – Hamilton’s winning margin) < 5.
  • Hamilton beat Livingston (H) AND St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) AND (St Mirren’s winning margin – Hamilton’s winning margin) = 5 AND (Goals scored by St Mirren – Goals scored by Hamilton) <5.

 

St Mirren will win the group if:

  • St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) by a margin of 4 or more goals AND Hamilton fail to beat Livingston (H).
  • St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) AND Hamilton beat Livingston (H) AND (St Mirren’s winning margin – Hamilton’s winning margin) > 5.
  • St Mirren beat Edinburgh City (H) AND Hamilton beat Livingston (H) AND (St Mirren’s winning margin – Hamilton’s winning margin) = 5 AND (Goals scored by St Mirren – Goals scored by Hamilton) > 4.

 

Group H

Morton lead the way with 8 points, ahead of Kilmarnock (6) in second.

Greenock Morton will win the group if:

  • Morton take at least 2 points against Berwick Rangers (H).
  • Kilmarnock take 1 point or fewer against Albion Rovers (H).
  • Morton take 1 point against Berwick Rangers (H) AND Kilmarnock beat Albion Rovers (H) by a margin of 2 goals or fewer.
  • Morton take 1 point against Berwick Rangers (H) AND Kilmarnock beat Albion Rovers (H) by a margin of 3 goals AND Morton score at least 3 goals more than Kilmarnock.
  • Morton lose to Berwick Rangers (H) by a margin of 2 goals or fewer AND Kilmarnock take 2 points against Albion Rovers (H).
  • Morton lose to Berwick Rangers (H) by a margin of 3 goals AND Kilmarnock take 2 points against Albion Rovers (H) AND Morton score at least 3 goals more than Kilmarnock.

 

Kilmarnock will win the group if:

  • Kilmarnock defeat Albion Rovers (H) AND Morton lose to Berwick Rangers (H).
  • Kilmarnock defeat Albion Rovers (H) by a margin of 4 or more goals AND Morton take 1 point against Berwick Rangers (H).
  • Kilmarnock defeat Albion Rovers (H) by a margin of 3 goals AND (Goals scored by Morton – Goals scored by Killie) < 2.
  • Kilmarnock take 2 points against Albion Rovers (H) AND Morton lose to Berwick Rangers by a margin of 4 or more goals.
  • Kilmarnock take 2 points against Albion Rovers (H) AND Morton lose to Berwick Rangers by a margin of 3 goals AND (Goals scored by Morton – Goals scored by Killie) < 2.

 

Best Runners-up

The 4 best runners-up across the groups will also progress to the next round.  This is a hugely complex scenario, and it is impossible for me to provide a comprehensive list of exactly what each club needs to qualify, but a brief overview is provided here.

The minimum and maximum points tallies for the runners up in each group are displayed in the plot below.  The left hand side of the bar shows the lowest possible tally, and the right end of the bar marks the maximum possible tally.

Group

At the moment, it is possible that group runners-up could have anything between 6 and 10 points.  My prediction is that clubs will need at least 9 points to have a chance of finishing as the best runner-up, though it is still possible that someone could sneak through with 8.

The list below provides a run-down of which clubs could finish on which points tallies.

10 points

There are only two groups where the runners-up could finish on 10 points (C & D).  Therefore, 10 points will guarantee progression to the next round.

In Group C, Inverness and Dundee United can both end up on 10 points by winning their final fixtures.  If both clubs do so, then whichever one finishes as runner-up will be sure to go through.

In Group D, the prospect of the runner-up having 10 points is slightly less likely.  This would only occur if Raith Rovers defeated Alloa Athletic on penalties, thus leaving both sides on 10.  It is possible that both sides could conspire to ensure this result, but a victory for either team could see them seeded in the next round, which would hugely boost their chances of reaching at least the quarters.

 

9 points

It seems likely that we might see quite a few runners-up on 9 points.  It is still possible for the runners-up in Groups C, D, E, F, G and H to end up with 9 points – so potentially two clubs with 9 points could miss out on progression.

If multiple clubs end up with 9 points, the tie-breakers are (1) goal difference, (2) goals scored, (3) away goals scored, (4) matches won, (5) away matches won (6) drawing of lots.  Building up a big goal difference could therefore be crucial for the sides who are currently likely to finish on 9 points.

In Group C, Inverness or Dundee United could end up on 9 points if they end up winning their weekend matches on penalties.  In both cases, these clubs would have a goal difference of +5  Alternatively Dunfermline Athletic could end up in second place on 9 points if they beat Dundee United, but Inverness win against Arbroath.  Dunfermline’s current goal difference is +2, but that would increase based on their winning margin.

In Group D, Alloa Athletic could end up in 2nd place with 9 points if they lose to Raith Rovers.  Their current goal difference is +7, but that would decrease with their defeat.  Alternatively, Raith Rovers could finish 2nd with 9 points if they lose on penalties to Alloa.  In that scenario, Raith’s goal difference would be +2.

In Group E, Queen of the South may finish in 2nd with 9 points if they beat Stenhousemuir at home and Partick Thistle avoid defeat against Queen’s Park.  The Doonhamers currently have a goal difference of +3, and that would increase with a win.  Partick Thistle could also finish 2nd on 9 points if they lose to Queen’s Park and Queen of the South overhaul them on goal difference.  Thistle’s goal difference is currently +5, but that would decrease with their defeat.

In Group F, Motherwell and Stranraer face off at Stair Park to decide who will finish as runners-up.  Both clubs have 6 points, so if either side wins in 90 minutes then they would take that tally to 9.  Motherwell’s current goal difference is +3, while Stranraer’s is 0.

In Group G, Ayr United, Hamilton Accies and St Mirren could all still finish on 9 points.  This group is likely to be decided on goal difference – Ayr have finished all their matches and have +3, Hamilton are currently on +4 and Saints are on -1.  If the runners-up in this group have 9 points, then their goal difference is guaranteed to be at least +3.

In Group H, Kilmarnock would finish as runners-up with 9 points if they beat Albion Rovers at home and Morton take at least a couple of points at home to Berwick.  Killie’s current goal difference is 0, so they may need to increase that drastically to progress.  A slightly less likely scenario would see Morton finish as runners-up on 9 points if they lose on penalties to Berwick and Killie win heavily.  In that case, Morton would have a goal difference of +3.

The plot below shows the range of possible goal differences for each club who could finish on 9 points.  The red dots mark the current goal differences, and the green bars cover the range of goal differences which they could finish up with if they end up on 9 points.  The dashed lines separate groups (obviously only one club from each section can end up in consideration for the best second placed spot).

GD

 

8 points

Depending on results in other groups, it’s possible that runners-up with 8 points could sneak through.  The runners-up in Groups A and B cannot have any more than 8 points, and there are a number of teams in other groups who could end up with this total.

In Group A, East Fife could finish as runners-up if Peterhead beat Dumbarton and Forfar don’t beat Dundee.  The Fifers have finished all their matches and have a goal difference of +1.  Forfar Athletic could also finish as runners-up on 8 points if they win by a scoreline other than 1-0 and Peterhead win, or if they win 1-0 and Peterhead lose (there are also some other unlikely scenarios).  Forfar currently have a goal difference of 0.  Peterhead could also end up 2nd on 8 if they beat Dumbarton on penalties, but Forfar beat Dundee by a couple of goals.

In Group B, Stirling Albion could finish as runners-up on 8 points if they beat St Johnstone on penalties.  In that case, their goal difference would be +3.  Brechin could finish as runners-up on 8 if they beat Falkirk, and the Saints v Stirling game ends up with any result other than Stirling winning on penalties.  Their goal difference is currently -1, but would improve with a win.  It is theoretically possible for St Johnstone to finish 2nd on 8 points, but that would require a very unlikely turn of events.

In Group C, Dundee United could finish as runners-up on 8 points if they lose to Dunfermline on penalties and Inverness get at least a couple of points against Arbroath.  In that scenario, United would have a goal difference of +5.  Inverness could finish as runners-up on 8 points if they lose on penalties to Arbroath, and they too would have a goal difference of +5.  Dunfermline could finish as runners-up on 8 points if they beat Dundee United on penalties, and Inverness lose to Arbroath.  Their goal difference in that scenario would be +2.

In Group D, Raith Rovers will finish as runners-up on 8 points if they lose to Alloa in their final match.  Raith’s current goal difference is +2, and that would decrease with a defeat.

In Group E, Queen of the South would end up with 8 points if they beat Stenhousemuir on penalties.  In this scenario, their goal difference would be +3.

In Group F, either Motherwell or Stranraer could end up in second place with 8 points if they win on penalties on Saturday.  Motherwell’s goal difference is +3, while Stranraer’s is 0.

In Group G, Hamilton could end up as runners-up with 8 points if they beat Livingston on penalties, and St Mirren fail to beat Edinburgh City.  In that scenario, Hamilton’s goal difference would be +4.  St Mirren could finish as runners-up with 8 points if they beat Edinburgh City on penalties and Hamilton took no more than 1 point against Livingston.  Their goal difference would be -1.

In Group H, Kilmarnock would finish second with 8 points if they beat Albion Rovers on penalties and Morton avoided a heavy defeat against Berwick.  In that scenario, Killie’s goal difference would be 0.  Morton could finish second on 8 points if they lose to Berwick and Killie beat Albion Rovers.  The Ton currently have a goal difference of +3, but that would drop with a defeat.

 

7 points

It is highly unlikely that 7 points will be enough to qualify for the next round.  It is already certain that the runners-up in Groups D and F will pick up at least 8 points, and it seems very likely that runners-up in many other groups will earn at least that many.

In Group A, Peterhead, Forfar and Dundee could all theoretically finish 2nd with 7 points.

In Group B, St Johnstone, Stirling Albion or Brechin could finish second with 7.

In Group C, Inverness, Dundee United or Dunfermline could all pick up 7 points in second place.

In Group E, Queen of the South could finish 2nd on 7 points by losing on penalties on Saturday.

In Group G, Hamilton or St Mirren could finish up second with 7 points.

In Group H, Killie could come in second with 7 points if they lose on penalties to Albion Rovers.

 

6 points

The runners-up in Groups A, B, E, G and H could still all finish on 6 points, so it is theoretically possible that one of these sides could sneak through.  This would require all of the following results to occur:

  • Dumbarton beat Peterhead (H)
  • Dundee defeat Forfar (A) on penalties
  • St Johnstone beat Stirling Albion (H)
  • Falkirk beat Brechin (H) either in 90 minutes, or on penalties
  • Stenhousemuir beat Queen of the South (A)
  • Livingston beat Hamilton (A)
  • Edinburgh City beat St Mirren (A)
  • Albion Rovers beat Kilmarnock (A)

 

In this scenario, one of Dundee, Falkirk, Livingston or Albion Rovers could sneak through on 6 points.

 

Summary

The plot below shows the possible range of points for each possible 2nd place finisher.  The dashed blue lines separate out the groups, and the red bars go from the minimum to maximum point tallies with which the club could conceivably finish second.

Club.jpeg

 

 

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The 2015/16 Run-in

This aims to be a comprehensive guide to the final weeks of 2015/16 SPFL season.  This page will be updated after each set of matches, and will cover the promotion and relegation issues in each of the four divisions.

Updated to include matches played on 1st May.

Premiership Title

The Premiership champions will enter the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Champions League.

Only Celtic and Aberdeen can still win the league.

8th May

Celtic will be champions if:

  • Celtic avoid defeat against Aberdeen (H).

 

Europa League

The Scottish Cup winners (Hibernian or Rangers) will qualify for the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Europa League.

The teams finishing in 2nd and 3rd in the Scottish Premiership will qualify for the 1st Qualifying Round of the Europa League.

Celtic, Aberdeen and Heart of Midlothian have all secured at least a Europa League spot via the league.

 

Premiership Relegation Play-offs

The club finishing 11th in the Premiership will enter the relegation play-offs.

It is still possible for Kilmarnock, Hamilton Accies or Partick Thistle to finish in the relegation play-off spot.

7th May

Partick Thistle will be safe from relegation if:

  • Partick Thistle beat Kilmarnock (A).

 

Hamilton Academical will be safe from relegation if:

  • Hamilton Accies beat Dundee (A) AND Kilmarnock lose to Partick Thistle (H).

 

Kilmarnock will be guaranteed to finish 11th if:

  • Kilmarnock lose to Partick Thistle (H) AND Hamilton Accies beat Dundee (A).

 

 

Premiership Automatic Relegation

Dundee United will finish 12th in the Premiership and will play in the Championship next season.

 

 

Championship Title

Rangers are the league champions, and will play in the Premiership next season.

 

 

Championship Promotion Play-offs

Falkirk, Hibernian and Raith Rovers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively, and will enter the promotion play-offs along with the side finishing 11th in the Premiership.

The format is as follows:

Quarter-Final: Hibernian v Raith Rovers
Semi-Final: Falkirk v QF Winner
Final: 11th v SF Winner

All matches are played over two legs.

 

 

 Championship Relegation Play-offs

Livingston will finish 9th in the Championship and will enter the relegation play-offs.

 

Championship Automatic Relegation

Alloa Athletic will finish 10th in the Championship, and will play in League 1 next season.

 

 

League 1 Title

Dunfermline Athletic are League 1 champions, and will play in the Championship next season.

 

League 1 Promotion Play-offs

Ayr United, Peterhead and Stranraer finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th will enter the promotion play-offs along with Livingston, who finished 9th in the Championship.  The format is as follows:

Semi-Final: Ayr United v Peterhead & Livingston v Stranraer
Final: SF Winner 1 v SF Winner 2

 

 

League 1 Relegation Play-offs

Cowdenbeath finished 9th in League 1 and will enter the relegation play-offs.

 

 

League 1 Automatic Relegation

Forfar Athletic finished 10th in League 1, and will play in League 2 next season.

 

 

League 2 Title

East Fife are League 2 champions, and will play in League 1 next season.

 

League 2 Promotion Play-offs

Elgin City, Clyde and Queen’s Park finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th will enter the promotion play-offs along with Cowdenbeath, who finished 9th in League 1.  The format is as follows:

Semi-Final: Elgin City v Clyde & Cowdenbeath v Queen’s Park
Final: SF Winner 1 v SF Winner 2

All matches are played over two legs.

 

 

League 2 Relegation Play-off

East Stirlingshire finished bottom of League 2, and will participate in the Pyramid Play-offs.

The winners of the Pyramid Play-off will participate in League 2 next season.  If East Stirlingshire lose this play-off, then they will be relegated to the Lowland League.

Lowland League champions Edinburgh City defeated Highland League champions Cove Rangers in the play-off semi-final.

Final: East Stirlingshire v Edinburgh City

This tie will be played over two legs.

The UEFA Nations League Explained

The 54 UEFA members recently passed a unanimous vote to launch a new tournament called the UEFA Nations League from 2018 onwards.  The intention of the tournament is to replace meaningless international friendlies with some form of competitive football, with the aim of boosting interest from supporters and commercial partners alike.  The tournament is explained at some length on the UEFA website, but I hope to make things a bit clearer by taking you through how it will work in practice.

The format has not been completely finalised yet, but the plan is to split the countries into 4 large groups based on their UEFA coefficients (or some other ranking) and then to further subdivide these groups into leagues containing 3 or 4 teams.  There will be promotion and relegation between the four levels at the end of each campaign, while the four group winners in the top league will compete in a “Final Four” tournament to decide the overall champions.  In addition to being a standalone tournament, this would also provide nations with a second opportunity to qualify for the European Championships (and possibly the World Cup).

It’s much easier to follow things by looking at exactly how the tournament will work in practice, so that’s what I’ll do here.  This will be based on the current UEFA coefficients and standings – obviously things will have changed in that respect four years down the line, but it should give an idea of how it all works.  Some details have not yet been fully explained by UEFA yet, so where that’s the case I’ll make a best guess about how things will happen.

 

Nations Cup Group Allocation

The 54 sides will be split into four groups of varying sizes.  It appears from the UEFA site that the top two groups will have 12 teams, the third group will have 14 teams and the bottom group will have 16 teams.  The teams will presumably be allocated to those groups based on their positions in the UEFA coefficient table (which is currently used to seed the European Championship qualifiers).

Based on the current rankings, the four divisions would be as follows:

Group 1 (12 teams): Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ukraine, France, Croatia.

Group 2 (12 teams): Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway.

Group 3 (14 teams): Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus, Iceland.

Group 4 (16 teams): Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar.

 

Each group will then be split up into smaller leagues.  In Groups 1 and 2, the teams would be split into 4 groups of 3.  In Group 3, there will be 2 groups of 3 and 2 groups of 4.  In Group 4 there will be 4 groups of 4. UEFA have yet to make it clear exactly how the make-up of these leagues will be decided, but I assume that it will be a simple seeded draw.  Initially, the seeding will presumably be based on the UEFA coefficients, but in future tournaments it could instead be based on the league positions in the previous Nations League.

Assuming that is the case, the groups could look something like this:

Groups

 

Nations Cup Tournament

The sides in each group will face each other home and away between September and November 2018.  There are six matchdays in total, so the countries in groups of 3 will have two free matchdays in which they can play friendlies against non-European sides (or another European team who are also free).

In order to make it more like a “real life” example, I have simulated outcomes for each individual group with weights based on UEFA coefficients (an imperfect measure, but the best I have).  This means that nations with higher coefficients were more likely to win their group, but it left open the possibility of upsets.  This is more helpful than simply assuming everything will go by seeding because it allows me to more easily explore the European Championship qualification aspect later.

Here’s how the simulated groups finished:

Final

Based on this outcome, the Final Four tournament in June 2019 would feature England, Italy, Ukraine and Germany.  Meanwhile, France, Croatia, Spain and Greece would be relegated from Group 1 and would be replaced by Israel, Belgium, Slovenia and Denmark.  Promotion and relegation between Groups 2, 3 and 4 would work in the same way.  This format should allow lots of movement between the groups – even the best teams could find themselves relegated out of the top group with just a couple of dodgy results.

 

European Championship

The European Championship qualification will then kick off in March 2019, and will be played over 10 matchdays, finishing in November 2019.  The countries will be divided into 10 groups – 4 groups of 6 and 6 groups of 5, with seeding based on the UEFA coefficient as normal.

Again, I simulated a draw based on the current coefficients:

Groups

Every side will face every other side in their group home and away and the top two from each group will qualify for the European Championships.  However, unlike during the current set up, the remaining places will not be allocated via a play-off of third place sides, but instead via a set of play-offs based on the Nations Cup finishes.

Here are my simulated group finishes, again using a weighting system based on the UEFA coefficient:

Finishes

The 20 sides highlighted in yellow have all sealed their places at Euro 2020.

 

Nations League Play-offs

The remaining 4 places at Euro 2020 will be decided by the Nations League play-offs, with one side qualifying from each group.  Within each group, the 4 play-off spots will go to the highest placed sides who have not already qualified for the Euros.  These 4 teams will play semi-finals and then a final (all as one-off matches rather than two-legged ties) in March 2020 and the winners will qualify for the European Championships.

If we look at the tables for each of the Nations League divisions from earlier, and highlight the already qualified sides in yellow then we can see how these play-offs will work.

Playoff

In Group 1, Ukraine are the only league winners who did not qualify for the Euros, and would take their place in the play-offs.  They would be joined by Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were the only second placed side.  The final two spots will go to whichever two sides out of France, Croatia and Greece had the best league record.  Therefore the Group 1 play-offs might see Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and France come together to play for a single spot at the Euros.

In Group 2, there are only 4 sides who have not qualified for Euro 2020 through the traditional qualifying route.  Therefore all 4 of these sides (Denmark, Serbia, Sweden & Turkey) will face off in the play-offs for the spot at the Euros.  Incidentally, the explanation on the UEFA website suggests that if there was a case where there were fewer than 4 sides who had not already qualified, the play-off spots would go to sides from a lower division, though the exact mechanism for doing that is not fully explained.

For Group 3, the play-off places would go to league winners Finland and Scotland, and then to the two sides with the best records out of Belarus, Iceland and Wales.  Presumably the results against the fourth placed side would be removed when comparing the records of teams in different sized groups.

Finally, in Group 4 we will see all four league winners progress to the play-offs.  That would mean that Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Georgia would get to play-off for a spot at the European Championships.  This is obviously slightly controversial because it means a “lesser” side will qualify for the tournament, but the counterargument for that would be that the extra exposure and the tournament experience may benefit the nation in the longer term.

 

Will It Work?

I think the idea of replacing friendly matches with competitive fixtures is a great one, and I think the concept of an international league with promotion and relegation is really good in theory.  For a country like Scotland, it is likely to be a fairly interesting concept, because with the cut-throat nature of the promotion and relegation we are likely to yo-yo around between Groups 2 and 3, with some infrequent visits to the top and bottom groups.

The addition of the European Championship qualifying spot ensures that countries are likely to take the tournament seriously – it could be crucial to have a fall-back option if you mess up in qualifying.  The way the play-off places are distributed appears to favour a big fish in a small pond – a strong nation who finds themselves relegated into Group 3 or Group 4 would have an easier route to qualification than if they were in a higher division.  However it is worth noting that the sides who do qualify in this way are also likely to be promoted for the following campaign and thus will not be able to take advantage of this route again.

The qualification system works nicely for Euro 2020, which has no single host.  However it would have to be tweaked for future tournaments if the host nation(s) received an automatic qualifying spot.  It has also been mooted that a couple of Europe’s World Cup places could be allocated via this system, though that would require approval from FIFA.  Exactly how this would work has not been made public yet, but it was suggested that the World Cup route would be for sides in the top two groups only.  With the Nations League not starting until 2018, the first World Cup which could feasibly use such a system would be 2022, so there is plenty of time to come up with something.

Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about what has been announced so far.  There are a few issues which will have to be addressed, but if they can do that properly the tournament should provide an additional source of competitive international football.  The bigger nations have another trophy to play for, the middle sized nations (like Scotland) have plenty of meaningful matches in battles for promotion and relegation, and the minnows get to have a crack at the European Championships.

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

How the Champions Path has helped Celtic

Georgios Samaras draws Celtic level against Shakhter Karagandy.

 

 

Celtic have reached the group stage of the Champions League for a second consecutive season following a lengthy qualifying campaign which saw them having to win three ties. It is fair to say that Neil Lennon, his players and Celtic supporters were not happy about having to play so many qualifying ties after their success last season, and while their claims may have some merit, I’ll explain why they should in fact be grateful for the changes which UEFA made from 2009/10 onwards.

Note that the aim of this blog is not to belittle the achievements of Celtic in the last two seasons (indeed they proved they were more than worthy of a group stage berth last season), but rather to debunk the myth that playing more games has made it more difficult for them.

Prior to the changes in 2009, UEFA granted automatic group stage entry to 16 teams, and the other 16 places went to the sides who fought their way through the qualifying rounds. Under the old system, the qualifying route was the same for all teams, whether they finished 4th in a bigger league or were champions of a smaller league, with the only differences being the rounds at which they entered. This meant that a side like Celtic could find themselves unseeded and facing a big name in the final qualifying round.

The biggest change from 2009 onwards was the introduction of separate “Champions” and “Non-Champions” qualification sections, designed to increase the number of national champions participating in the group stage. The number of sides with automatic group stage entry increased to 22, with the remaining 10 places given to qualifiers – 5 to the “Champions Path” and 5 to the “Non-Champions Path”.  These changes came at the behest of Michel Platini, who wanted more champions involved in the group stage – indeed he promised it to the smaller nations when he was campaigning for the UEFA presidency.

This change guarantees that there will be at least 17 champions in the group stages each year (18 in the seasons like this one where the holders are also national champions). This compares favourably to the seasons prior to the changes – in the five seasons prior to the change there were an average of 14.8 champions per season (2004/05 had 14, 2005/06 had 15, 2006/07 had 16, 2007/08 had 13 and 2008/09 had 16). With between 2 and 3 extra places available for champions each season, these changes have a clear benefit to the champions of the mid-ranked countries such as Scotland.

Celtic have been one of the key beneficiaries in the last two seasons, converting their last two titles into group stage berths, and as massive favourites for the next two Scottish titles (at least), they will have further opportunities to take advantage of the champions route.

The downside of the new system for Scottish clubs is that it will be much more difficult for the runners-up to qualify for the group stage, should we eventually get back the second Champions League spot which we had on and off for the last decade. The non-champions route means that they will inevitably face a side from a bigger country (eg England, Spain, Germany) in the final qualifying round, and could even have a tough tie in the round before that – as Motherwell found out last year.

To illustrate how the “Champions Path” was advantageous to Celtic this season, here’s how this year’s qualifying draw would have panned out under the old system:

1st Qualifying Round

Celtic would have been spared entry at this stage, meaning that they only had to participate in two qualifying rounds.  However, as you’ll see later, the standard of opposition in those two rounds would have been substantially higher.

The champions of the countries ranked between 25th and 53rd (excluding Liechtenstein who don’t have a league) would have entered at this stage.  The seeded and unseeded sides would have been as follows.

QR1

2nd Qualifying Round

The champions of the nations ranked 17th-24th would have entered at this stage.  Scotland were ranked 18th for this season, so Celtic would have been amongst these sides.  Also entering would have been the runners-up from the nations ranked 10th-15th.  This, of course, differs from the current system, where these sides would have been kept separate from the champions.

This round would have been drawn at the same time as the 1st Qualifying Round, so any unseeded sides who won in the 1st Qualifying Round would have taken over their opponent’s seeding.

Here is how the seeding would have looked.

QR2

Note that the opponents Celtic could have faced here are very similar to the sides they could have faced in the actual draw for the equivalent stage (3rd Qualifying Round).

Under the old system they would have avoided Sheriff Tiraspol, Maribor and Slovan Bratislava – all difficult opponents who they could have drawn in the actual draw, but the old system would also have thrown up potential tough ties against Swiss runners-up Grasshopper Zurich and Belgian runners-up Zulte Waregem.

Overall, it seems fair enough to argue that there is no real difference in the levels of potential opponents here.  However, that is not the case for the 3rd and final qualifying round under the old system.

3rd Qualifying Round

The champions of the nations ranked 11th-16th would enter here, along with the runners-up from the nations ranked 7th-9th.  On top of that, the 3rd placed sides from nations ranked 1st-6th and the 4th placed sides from nations ranked 1st-3rd would take part at this stage of the tournament.

This round would have been drawn before the 2nd Qualifying Round was complete, so UEFA would seed the draw on the assumption that all seeded teams won in the 2nd Qualifying Round.  This would leave the seedings looking like this:

QR3

Celtic would therefore have been on the cusp of a seeded spot, but would have missed out by a single spot.  That means that they could have faced the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Lyon or AC Milan at this stage.  Even their “easiest” potential opponents Basel, FC Copenhagen, Anderlecht or BATE Borisov would have provided very difficult ties.

Compare that to the current system, where Celtic were kept apart from the non-champions due to the separate sections of the draw, and were also comfortably seeded in the final qualifying round (Play-off Round).  A glance at their actual potential opponents in this year’s Play-off Round draw shows the massive difference between the two systems from Celtic’s point of view.

Indeed, even if Celtic had sneaked into the seeded pot for the hypothetical draw, they could have faced sides like Real Sociedad, Steaua Bucharest and PAOK who are still clearly a cut above the opponents they actually could have drawn this season.

The set-up of the Champions League is still clearly not perfect, and there are many valid criticisms which could be made, but I hope I have illustrated that for a side like Celtic it has in fact become easier to qualify for the group stage in recent years.  While they have complained about having to play three qualifying matches this season (and they will have to do so again next year), it is surely better to have three easier matches as a seeded side than to have two matches where one of them is substantially more difficult.

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