Premier League returns: Aston Villa and West Ham lead chase for additional Champions League spot | Football News


The race to climb into the Champions League spots has never felt so wide-open as two of the early front-runners Aston Villa and West Ham meet live on Sky Sports Super Sunday.

The days of the Premier League’s so-called Big Four – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – are long gone.

With the top flight having returned this weekend from the October international break, those sides perched just outside the top four know finishing in fifth has an added layer of importance.

UEFA has approved the final format and access list for European club competitions from next season onwards – and two Champions League spots will to go associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous campaign.

How the new format came about

UEFA changed the criteria to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition, removing access based on club co-efficient. The number of matches in the new opening league stage will also be reduced from 10 to eight per team.

If the rule were applied last season, England and Italy would get an extra spot, meaning the team that finishes fifth in the Premier League would qualify apart from the top four teams.

With the number of teams increasing from 32 to 36, UEFA said one place will go to the “club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the UEFA national association ranking.”

A word of caution…

The Premier League has eight clubs in Europe this season after West Ham won the Europa Conference League. As they failed to qualify domestically, it means every win by an English club will be worth slightly less to the coefficient score owing to it being an average score of eight clubs rather than seven.

The last time England had eight clubs in Europe, in 2015-16, it only finished third in the season’s coefficient ranking, as both Southampton and West Ham failed to make it through the qualifying rounds. With all eight of this season’s clubs safely in the group stages, however, there should be better news this time around.

In a considerable blow to LaLiga’s coefficient, Osasuna failed to make the group stage of the Europa Conference League, so the top line is that from here it would take a very poor season for the Premier League not to get five places.

How is the battle shaping up?

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So, we have established the two leagues that have the best coefficients this season will get an additional place in the Champions League group stage next season.

If England is one of them, fifth in the Premier League will qualify. To stress, individual club coefficient isn’t relevant, and the position will be awarded to the next team in the domestic table.

The Premier League has been in the top two in six of the past seven seasons (in 2019-20, Germany pipped England to second by a solitary victory), so that’s good news for the chasing pack.

Which leagues would have benefitted from new format?

  • 2016-17: Spain and England
  • 2017-18: England and Spain
  • 2018-19: England and Spain
  • 2019-20: Spain and Germany
  • 2020-21: England and Spain
  • 2021-22: England and the Netherlands
  • 2022-23: England and Italy

6th: Aston Villa (16 points)

As Ollie Watkins signs a new long-term contract with Aston Villa we take a look at all his Premier League goals this season

Aston Villa are getting used to Thursday-Sunday football. In fact, all of their next five Premier League games fall on a Sunday, starting with the visit of West Ham live on Sky Sports, owing to their Europa League commitments.

Having negotiated challenging opening fixtures, winning away at Chelsea and Burnley, Unai Emery’s side will now look to capitalise on a favourable run of matches.

What is more, Villa have won 10 consecutive Premier League matches at Villa Park and three of their next four fixtures are at home.

That said, West Ham are capable of derailing them upon the restart given their counter-attacking qualities and Emery’s preference of a high defensive line.

Next four fixtures: West Ham (H) live on Sky Sports, Luton (H), Nottingham Forest (A) live on Sky Sports, Fulham (H)

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9th: West Ham (14 points)

This week’s Gillette Precision Play is Jarrod Bowen’s classy finish in West Ham’s 3-1 victory over Brighton

West Ham have possibly the toughest set of returning fixtures. David Moyes’ side face a tricky 22-day period that includes two Europa League games and a Carabao Cup home tie against Arsenal.

The Hammers sit ninth after Saturday’s matches and had simultaneously faced the second-most shots in the league (147) and had the third-highest Expected Goals Against (xGA) on 16.3.

Villa have turned their home ground into a fortress while improving Everton will be a tricky test. The next four matches will determine whether West Ham’s first eight matches have provided a false narrative.

Next four fixtures: Aston Villa (A) live on Sky Sports, Everton (H) live on Sky Sports, Brentford (A), Nottingham Forest (H) live on Sky Sports

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When do we find out who gets the extra places?

We are only in October, so it is far too early to even predict which sides will still be in European contention come the end of the season. However, the picture will become a lot clearer on all fronts by March, once we know which leagues have teams through to the quarter-finals of the three European competitions.

But it could well go right down to the final kick. In 2019/20, the Bundesliga did not overtake the Premier League for second place until Bayern Munich overcame Paris Saint-Germain in the final of the Champions League. This season’s showpiece takes place on June 1 at Wembley, for a change.

Wouldn’t it be fun if Arsenal won the Champions League to hand fifth-placed Tottenham access via the back door? Ange Postecoglou will be hoping qualification is assured long before then.

What if the CL winners finish outside top four?

Tottenham currently top the Premier League

Previously, there was a maximum of five clubs from one association that could play in the Champions League.

That meant, in the unlikely scenario where teams from the same league won the Champions League and Europa League – while finishing outside the Champions League places domestically – then fourth would have to surrender their place and drop into the Europa League.

Not anymore.

It is now possible that seven Premier League teams can earn a place in the Champions League: The top five, and the winners of Europe’s top two club competitions.

And if we really wanted to have some fun, we can extend this to all three European competitions to reveal that the Premier League could have as many as 11 teams playing continental football next season: The usual allocation of seven, plus the extra Champions League place and the winners of all three European competitions, provided they finished outside a European position.

How to watch Premier League highlights

This season you can watch Premier League highlights just after the full-time whistle for free and without being a Sky Sports subscriber.

We’ll bring you highlights of every Premier League game on the Sky Sports website and app at full-time or from 5.15pm on Saturday afternoons.

You’ll also be able to watch In-game goals from Sky Live games on Twitter and catch Premier League highlights on our Sky Sports Football YouTube channel.

Upcoming televised Premier League schedule in full…

October 22: Aston Villa vs West Ham, kick-off 4.30pm

October 23: Tottenham vs Fulham, kick-off 8pm

October 27: Wolves vs Newcastle, kick-off 5.30pm

October 29: West Ham vs Everton, kick-off 1pm

October 29: Man Utd vs Man City, kick-off 3.30pm

November 4: Newcastle vs Arsenal, kick-off 5.30pm

November 5: Nottingham Forest vs Aston Villa, kick-off 2pm

November 5: Luton vs Liverpool, kick-off 4.30pm

November 6: Tottenham vs Chelsea, kick-off 8pm

November 11: Bournemouth vs Newcastle, kick-off 5.30pm

November 12: West Ham vs Nottingham Forest, kick-off 2pm

November 12: Chelsea vs Man City, kick-off 4.30pm

November 25: Man City vs Liverpool, kick-off 12.30pm

November 26: Tottenham vs Aston Villa, kick-off 2pm

November 26: Everton vs Man Utd, kick-off 4.30pm

November 27: Fulham vs Wolves, kick-off 8pm

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