UEFA coefficients: Champions League qualification impact, pots and how it will change

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Every game played in European club competition this season, from preliminary qualifiers last June to the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid tomorrow, has had value attached to it.

There are the obvious financial rewards, the prestige and the three major trophies to chase – but also coefficient points for club and country.

Now, UEFA coefficients are unlikely to get your pulse racing. There is a higher chance they will either leave you cold or cross-eyed.

But as the system that decides how both clubs and their associations are ranked for every season of European football, they carry no shortage of significance.

Coefficients are what structure the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. They decide which clubs enter which competition and at what stage. They also have a bearing on the opponents each club face along the way.

The Athletic has examined how this system shapes every season of European football.


First up, how is a basic club coefficient calculated?

Get your pen and paper in hand and we will begin.

Each team competing at European level, whether that’s Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference League, have the opportunity to collect points every time they’re in action. It’s two for every group win in the Champions League, for example, with another for every round reached from the last 16 onwards. In short, the further you go, the more points you collect. The same goes for UEFA’s other two competitions, albeit with slightly reduced rewards.

A club’s coefficient, though, is based on the last five seasons, not just one. That cumulative total, updated live as a season progresses, determines where a team stand in the rankings at any given moment.

By UEFA’s metrics, the best performing club since 2017-18 are Bayern Munich. They might have fallen in the quarter-finals in both seasons since winning the Champions League in 2020, but the German giants’ knack of going deep year after year still sees them top of the tree. They might not have won the trophy in two years, but their fans can still chant: “Top club coefficient, you’ll never sing that.”


Bayern Munich’s Champions League quarter-final exit last month will not impact their place at the top of the club coefficients (Photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics / Corbis via Getty Images)

Second-placed Liverpool will be right behind Bayern if they can find a way of winning in Paris tomorrow (Saturday), with Manchester City currently third and Chelsea fourth. Barcelona’s stock keeps on falling at the highest level but they still remain above Paris Saint-Germain in sixth. The entire top 10 is made up of the real elite.

Any spell away from Europe will inevitably have a damaging impact on a coefficient.

Arsenal, for example, have fallen from 10th to 17th as a result of not playing European football in any of the three competitions this season.

West Ham are 74th in the list. They might have reached the Europa League semi-finals this season, banking more points than PSG earned for making the Champions League’s last 16, but the previous four years all came and went without European football at the London Stadium.

If you were wondering about who currently props up the rest, that honor goes to FC Santa Coloma of tiny Andorra, who are 433rd and last on the coefficient ladder following a qualifying round exit from the Europa League in 2017-18.

The only way is up, lads.

Club coefficients

Position Club Points (over five years)

1

Bayern Munich

138

2

Liverpool

134

3

Manchester City

134

4

Chelsea

123

5

Real Madrid

122

6

Barcelona

114

7

Paris Saint-Germain

112

8

Juventus

107

9

Atletico Madrid

105

10

Manchester United

105

So that’s a rough guide to club coefficients. But there’s also an association coefficient, right?

Correct. Don’t put that notepad down just yet.

The association coefficient is basically all of a nation’s clubs to qualify for Europe brought together and judged under one banner. The points earned by each participating club are added to the others from the same country before that sum is then divided by the number of clubs representing an association in that season.

Take England’s seven clubs this term: Liverpool (33 coefficient points), City (27), Chelsea (25), Manchester United (18), West Ham (21), Leicester (13) and Tottenham (five). Chuck them all together and divide by seven and voila, the highest figure of any European country this season.

The association club coefficient, as is the case with individual clubs, covers five years of results. Again, it is England leading the way, with Spain second, Italy now third and Germany fourth.

The big movers are Scotland, up to ninth having been 26th in 2017-18. Although their average is dented by clubs being knocked out in qualifiers (this season, that was Aberdeen, Hibernian and St Johnstone), the adventures of Celtic and, more recently, Rangers have dramatically improved Scotland’s standing.

Five-year country coefficients

Position Country Points

1

England

106,641

2

Spain

95,855

3

Italy

76,902

4

Germany

75,213

5

France

60,081

6

Portugal

53,382

7

Netherlands

49,300

8

Austria

38,850

9

Scotland

36,900

10

Russia

34,482

Why does any of all this matter?

To quote the late, great Bruce Forsyth (Ask your parents, kids), points mean prizes. Sort of.

The higher your coefficient – both with associations and clubs – the more favorably UEFA looks upon you. The reward for past achievements is effectively a greater chance to do it all again.

An association’s coefficient matters because that decides how many of your clubs will be allowed into Europe when a new season rolls around. England, Spain, Italy and Germany all currently get four places in the Champions League group phase owing to their prominence in the coefficients, with two more from each nation heading straight into the Europa League groups.

France and Portugal have to settle for three Champions League spots, with every other country getting two or one.

Scotland’s improvement, for example, means they now get two, with newly-crowned champions Celtic going straight into the groups and collecting millions. Premiership runners-up Rangers can join them on the gravy train by winning two two-leg qualification ties.

An individual club’s coefficient carries relevance due to the seeding you can expect when draws are made.

Pot 1 of next season’s Champions League group draw will be the champions of the top six nations (Manchester City, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, PSG and Porto) and winners of this season’s Champions League and Europa League (Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt) .

If Liverpool lose to Real Madrid in Paris, it will be Ajax who join Pot 1 as champions of the Netherlands, given Real Madrid are already assured of a place via La Liga. The high coefficient ratings of Chelsea and Spurs assures they will be in Pot 2, along with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Juventus finished fourth, well behind Napoli and runners-up Inter Milan, in Serie A this season but will also be in Pot 2 owing to a superior coefficient built up over the last five years. Pot 3 will be where Napoli and Inter go. Celtic already know they are bound for in Pot 4.


Liverpool would go into pot 1 for next season’s group draw if they win the Champions League final tomorrow (Photo: Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Great, I think I’ve got my head around it all…

Hold on there, champ. Not so fast. There’s another train rolling down the tracks, in time for 2024-25, to shake things up.

Reforms to the Champions League, signed off by the UEFA Executive Committee earlier this month, ensure the number of competing clubs will rise from the current 32 to 36. Gone will be the eight-groups-of-four first phase, replaced by two leagues operating in what’s known as the Swiss model.

The important bit in this discussion is that two of the additional four Champions League places up for grabs will go to the two associations with the best coefficient from the previous season.

The elite had predictably pushed for that prize to cover the previous five seasons, thus effectively giving England and Spain five Champions League places every year for the foreseeable, but a 12-month coefficient brings the greater potential for variables.

Like this season, where the Netherlands would currently join England in getting an extra spot.

Feyenoord’s run to the Europa Conference League final, along with Ajax reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, was telling, but it was Vitesse Arnhem, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven all reaching the last 16 of the Europa Conference League that ensures the Dutch coefficient (an average of the five competing) is second only to the English one.

That is only as it stands, though.

Roma’s win over Feyenoord on Wednesday will improve Italy’s standing, while Frankfurt’s penalty shoot-out victory over Rangers in the Europa League final last week helps Germany. Real Madrid would also improve Spain’s association coefficient by lifting the Champions League again tomorrow.

Country coefficients (2021-22)

Position Country Points

1

England

21,000

2

Netherlands

19.200

3

France

18,416

4

Spain

18,142

5

Germany

16.214

That, of course, raises the prospect of one club yearning for the success of a bitter rival in Europe for their own betterment.

A hypothetical situation, not beyond the realms of possibility, could see Manchester United, for example, cheering on Liverpool to win a Champions League final in order to improve their association’s coefficient average and ensure fifth in the Premier League is sufficient to qualify for a new season’s competition. Gulp. The devil and the deep blue sea.

The Netherlands might be currently second-best in the association coefficients but it is worth stressing that patterns from seasons past would bring few surprises over who got the two additional Champions League places.

The domestic leagues to benefit in the last five seasons would have been La Liga (five times), the Premier League (four times), and Germany (once). It has become close to a monopoly, even when accounting for 12-month windows and not five years.

Coefficients would be responsible for an association getting five clubs into the Champions League but there could be as many as seven clubs getting in from one nation – winning the Europa League brings automatic qualification to the more prestigious competition, while another club from the same country could gain entry by winning the Champions League while also finishing outside of the top five.

Seven is improbable, but six is ​​very possible.

Fifth place in the Premier League will almost certainly become a new route into the Champions League so long as the English coefficient remains high from 2024 onwards.

Adding another thread of complication to the coefficient picture is the issue of Russia.

The invasion of Ukraine has led to UEFA banning all Russian teams from its competitions, and that will not change in time for the 2022-23 season.

Russia currently stand 10th in the country coefficients, between Scotland and Serbia, but every nation below them now moves up a position for entry purposes into next season’s competitions.

Perhaps generously, Russia will be awarded the lowest number of coefficient points from the last five years for 2022-23, which for the men’s rankings would be the 4.33 collected in 2019-20.

(Top photo: Richard Juilliart – UEFA / UEFA via Getty Images)

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