Stories, subplots and the battle by UEFA associations to climb the coefficient rankings. All the aforementioned topics suddenly see frantic discussions across all media platforms in mid-December annually.
The timing of the draws for the knockout rounds of UEFA’s club competitions are always a highlight of the European footballing calendar. Speculation about ideal pathways to the final amongst supporters and discussions on who one’s club should draw & who to avoid.
A club’s fortunes can change so much in the two-month wait between the draw & the first knockout round ties. Injuries, loss of form, winter transfers and managerial changes are just a few of the variables in play. Just look at Chelsea FC in the first half of 2020/21 under Frank Lampard compared to the second half of last campaign under Thomas Tuchel.
With the addition of the new third-tier UEFA Europa Conference League for 2021/22, additional intrigue has also arisen from the knockout round draws on top of several talking points from those in both the Champions League and Europa League. Here are some of the main stories to look out for in this season’s European club competition knockouts.
Software Problems Embarrass UEFA & Force a Controversial Champions League Redraw
No sooner had the dust settled on the draw for the Round of Sixteen for the UEFA Champions League (UCL) than controversy struck that would force an eventual re-draw later on Monday 13th December.
When the original draw for the Round of Sixteen had taken place, the ball containing Manchester United was mistakenly absent from the pot when determining Atletico de Madrid’s opponents. This led Villarreal, who had played Manchester United originally in the group stages to land on The Red Devils initially in the draw.
Because teams are not allowed to be paired with sides from the same group in the Round of Sixteen, an immediate redraw of Villarreal’s potential opponents had to be conducted and Manchester City became their eventual opponents. Manchester United on the other hand drew Paris Saint Germain in the original draw.
However, complaints that the draw had not been done correctly, further strengthened by Liverpool mistakenly being in the same pot as Atletico, when both had faced each other in the group stage forced UEFA into a voiding of the original draw.
The official problems cited for the botched draw were technical problems with the software of an external provider.
A re-draw was conducted immediately, which saw Manchester United draw Atletico, Manchester City draw Sporting CP and Villarreal draw Juventus FC.
The situation was an embarrassment for UEFA and the re-draw has understandably upset several teams. Especially those who now will face on paper much tougher opponents than those drawn in the original voided draw.
This controversy is once again enough evidence to call for reform when it comes to future knockout draws and allow all opponents to be able to face each other in the first UCL knockout round draw irrespective of which UEFA member association they are based in.
With country protection being an extra consideration when programming the software for current draws in addition to keeping apart group winners and runners-up, it only opens up a stronger possibility of future mistakes.
In addition, country protection in the knockout rounds just simply enhances the unfair “elitist” nature of European club football’s top competition.
Sides such as Chelsea and Inter Milan should not get a free pass to avoid the likes of Liverpool and Juventus respectively in the Round of Sixteen just because they are from the same association. Group winners should be allowed to play any group runner-up, even the ones they faced in the group stage.
Bizarrely, the country protection rules also exist in both the Europa League (UEL) & Europa Conference League (UECL) knockouts until the Quarter Final stages.
Now whilst many including myself completely disapprove of country protection in the UCL, it is more understood due to desires by those who call the shots to want as many of the “big” European names in the latter stages as possible.
However, this aforementioned cited factor for the existence of the country protection rule is even less necessary in both the UEL and UECL. The majority of European football’s big hitters with the exception of FC Barcelona this season are already in the knockout rounds of the UCL, UEFA’s flagship competition.
Both the UEL and UECL are distinctive from the UCL in normally being more difficult to predict a winner. UEFA should therefore amend the early knockout round draw criteria for both the UEL and UECL and remove all country protection in the knockout rounds.
The Winners, Losers and Those Unaffected by the Re-Done Champions League Draw
The original voided draw for the UCL Round of Sixteen was as follows: Benfica vs Real Madrid, Villarreal vs Manchester City, Atletico Madrid vs Bayern Munich, RB Salzburg vs Liverpool, Inter Milan vs Ajax, Juventus vs Sporting CP, Chelsea vs Lille and Paris St Germain vs Manchester United.
The official now valid draw sees the following ties: RB Salzburg vs Bayern Munich, Sporting CP vs Manchester City, Benfica vs Ajax, Chelsea vs Lille, Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United, Villarreal vs Juventus, Inter Milan vs Liverpool and Paris St Germain vs Real Madrid.
Winners amongst the re-done draw include both Benfica and Ajax. Both sides may well have been perceived to have been slight underdogs in their original draws against both Real Madrid and Inter Milan respectively.
However, both now face off against each other after the re-draw, a result both would have happily taken before the original draw.
The other major winner is current UCL holders Chelsea having drawn French Ligue 1 outfit Lille in both the original voided draw and redraw.
Whilst any hopes of retaining their title from last season may have disappeared, Lille are on a resurgence lately in Ligue 1 and have climbed up to 8th in the standings at the time of Ligue 1’s winter break.
Les Dogues also won their final three group stage games in the UCL to finish top of a group which many predicted they would struggle to qualify from given the presence of Sevilla, RB Salzburg and VfL Wolfsburg.
Despite this improved form from Lille both domestically and in Europe, they are a team Chelsea would have taken pre-draw. One has to have the Stamford Bridge outfit as strong favourites in this tie.
One could also argue that another “winner” of the re-draw albeit on a lesser scale is Spanish outfit Villarreal.
Originally scheduled to play Manchester City, a tie which on paper would have given El Submarino Amarillo little chance to progress to the Quarter Finals, Juventus, despite still being a tough opponent, are less of a daunting opponent than the Cityzens for Unai Emery’s troops.
Villarreal’s return to form in La Liga has unsurprisingly coincided with the return from the injury of key forward Gerard Moreno. The 30-year-old has scored five goals and one assist in the last three games for Villarreal, all of which victories for El Submarino Amarillo which have lifted them up to 9th in La Liga heading into the winter break.
If the big winners of the redraw were Benfica & Ajax, the big losers in the draw are both their opponents from the original voided draw, Real Madrid & Inter Milan. The red-hot favourites for La Liga and defending Italian Serie A champions have much tougher assignments against Paris St Germain and Liverpool.
Real Madrid vs PSG looks like a 50/50 toss-up which could go either way. Despite Inter continuing to improve on the foundations that Antonio Conte built under new manager Simeone Inzaghi, they go into their match against Liverpool as considerable underdogs.
The side who are effectively unaffected by the draw having to be redone are first time UCL knockout participants RB Salzburg. Liverpool in the original voided draw was a hard enough task, however, drawing Bayern Munich in the redraw is a classic example of getting out of the frying pan into the fire for the Austrian Bundesliga champions.
SL Benfica vs AFC Ajax: The Dominant Forces of the Last Decade in the Primeira and Eredivisie Square Off With Place in the Quarter Finals at Stake
Whilst the likes of Liverpool vs Inter, Real Madrid vs PSG and Atletico de Madrid vs Manchester United all are strong candidates to have the tag “tie of the round” bestowed on them, I believe just as fascinating a tie as all of these can be found in the shape of SL Benfica vs AFC Ajax.
With 37 and 35 domestic title victories respectively, both clubs are record champions of their respective countries’ football championships.
In addition, both Benfica and Ajax were the dominant forces domestically in the past decade with both clubs winning five domestic championships during the 2010’s. Benfica’s titles came in 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2018/19 with Ajax’s titles coming in 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2018/19.
Both sides overcame tricky looking group stages to make it to the knockouts. Pre-group stage it could be argued that Ajax were second-favourites to top what looked a tight group containing favourites Borussia Dortmund, Sporting CP and Besiktas JK.
However, the Amsterdam outfit made light work of all their opponents, six wins out of six games for Erik ten Hag’s troops saw them be one of only three sides to post an unblemished group stage record alongside Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
Despite taking an aggregate 9-2 beating over their two group games against Bayern, Benfica proved very capable in their other group stage matches, the highlight of which being a 3-0 home victory over FC Barcelona on Matchday Two courtesy of goals from Rafa Silva and Darwin Nunez.
O Glorioso could have even completed a double over Blaugrana in the group stage had striker Haris Seferovic not missed a glorious chance late on in the 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Matchday Five.
There are three fascinating talking points from this tie. Firstly, it’s a contest between arguably the two largest sides reputation-wise taking into account past European performances and domestic success from outside the traditional “Big Five” European leagues.
Secondly, whatever the result, this season’s UCL will have at least one participant from outside the “Big Five” leagues in the Quarter Finals. Something ever-harder to find in this era of the “Super Clubs”. However, it is the third such talking point that is most fascinating of all.
Benfica vs Ajax Is Part of a Fascinating Battle for UEFA Coefficient Supremacy Between Portugal and the Netherlands, a Battle Which Could Even Eventually Involve France
If one looks at UEFA’s Country Rankings for an association’s allocation of clubs in UEFA competitions from between 1992/93 (with the establishment of UCL & English Premier League), and the modern-day only ten countries have ever at one point been ranked in the top six.
Those ten countries are the traditional “big five” leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy & Spain) alongside Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal and Russia.
Being ranked sixth in the UEFA rankings is significant as it is the cut-off point for an association having six representatives in European club competitions, of these six, three go into the UCL, one goes into the UEL and two go into the UECL.
For those who are unaware, the UEFA Rankings are calculated using the combined co-efficient points gained by each country’s clubs in UEFA competitions over a five-season period.
This five-season period is always sliding. The total allocation of spots in UEFA club competitions for countries for the next five-year cycle from the 2023/24 season will be the total combined co-efficient points gained by countries in the five seasons between 2017/18 and 2021/22.
For the start of the 2022/23 season (where the current allocations remain in place in a transitional season to the new allocation), coefficient points gained by countries in 2017/18 will be wiped and no longer counted.
This brings us nicely onto the aforementioned third talking point. For a number of seasons throughout the 2010’s Russia was ranked 6th in the UEFA coefficients, however, Portugal and the Netherlands have now both surpassed Russia.
Whilst many have heard the oft-mentioned phrase “big five European leagues’ ‘, Portugal and Netherlands perhaps could be disclosed out of all the non-big five leagues to be “the next best two”. After all, both are ranked 5th & 6th for total European Cup/UCL winners & beaten finalists ahead of France.
Currently, Portugal holds 6th place in the UEFA Country Rankings with a combined coefficient of 50.049, the Netherlands is currently ranked 7th on a combined 44.500 co-efficient points.
With a five and a half co-efficient point lead over the Netherlands, Portugal does look like it has done enough to hold onto a sixth-place finish by the end of the 2021/22 season.
Thus, guaranteeing Portugal six representatives in European club competition for the start of 2023/24, barring a catastrophic collapse for Portugal’s four remaining clubs in Europe and brilliant performance in the knockouts from the Dutch clubs.
However, each UEFA member association will lose its coefficient points for the 2017/18 season at the end of the 2021/22 season.
Whilst Portugal might have a 5-and-a-half-point lead over the Netherlands at this current time, its coefficient for 2017/18 was 9.666, the Netherlands, by contrast had a coefficient of just 2.900 for 2017/18, nearly seven co-efficient points difference.
Therefore, before any ball has been kicked in UEFA competitions for the 2022/23 season, Portugal will likely lose 6th place to the Netherlands.
This ranking may of course not matter immediately for the allocation of places as the next reset of allocations for clubs in UEFA competitions after 2023/24 will only come into force for the 2029/30 season. However, the Netherlands will get an instant jump on Portugal.
For the beginning of the 2023/24 season, the club coefficient gained by countries in UEFA competitions for 2018/19 is wiped clean. Again, Portugal outscored the Netherlands by 2.300 points in 2018/19 (10.900 compared to 8.600).
Intriguingly, this two-way fight for supremacy could even become a three-way fight and an eventual battle for the 5th spot in the entire UEFA Country Rankings with the current 5th placed association, France.
Like Portugal, France substantially outscored the Netherlands in 2017/18 with a coefficient of 11.500, being 8.600 points higher than the 2.900 scored by the Netherlands. So just like they will in Portugal, the Netherlands could well also get a co-efficient jump on France for the new cycle beginning in 2022/23.
The coefficient factor explained above adds even more importance to the UCL Ajax vs Benfica Round of Sixteen clashes. UEFA guidelines state that should a club reach the Quarter Finals of either the UCL or the UEL that an extra co-efficient point will be added to said club’s country coefficient.
Ajax because of their performances in the UCL group stage go into the match against As Aguias as favourites, not to mention Benfica recently falling considerably behind both Porto and Sporting in the Liga Primeira title race in addition to firing manager Jorge Jesus.
This extra point for making the Quarter Finals of the Champions League adds extra incentive for Ajax to increase the aforementioned jump-start the Eredivisie has on the Primeira Liga in the coefficient race. However, Ajax vs Benfica is one part of the wider battle for coefficient supremacy between Portugal and the Netherlands.
Portugal has the advantage when it comes to clubs making the knockout rounds of the UCL, with Sporting also joining Benfica in the Round of Sixteen. However, they have a very tough tie in which they are firm underdogs against Manchester City. Portugal also has two representatives in the UEL compared to none from the Netherlands.
However, both FC Porto and SC Braga face tough qualifying playoff round ties against SS Lazio and Sheriff Tiraspol respectively. The Netherlands have all of their teams still playing in European competition this season. All of the five Dutch teams with the exception of Ajax will be in the UECL.
AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord, courtesy of winning their UECL groups, have automatically made the Round of Sixteen. Whereas PSV Eindhoven & Vitesse Arnhem have been presented with very-winnable looking ties against Maccabi Tel Aviv & Rapid Vienna respectively
On first glance, the Netherlands looks to be in a more favourable position than Portugal for the remainder of 2021/22. With country protection being in force until the Quarter Final stage of all three of UEFA’s club competitions, the inaugural UECL latter rounds could prove a very Dutch affair.
Especially as PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord have the pedigree & squad to manage a UECL run alongside a domestic Eredivisie title challenge to Ajax.
This aforementioned potential three-way future co-efficient fight and the way both Portugal and Netherlands seem to be pulling away in the UEFA Country Rankings from the other non-big five league associations could have longer-lasting implications. One of which could be the reformed UCL from season 2024/25 onwards.
The reformed UCL is set to comprise a 36 team group stage, up four participants from the current 32 teams. In addition, the big five leagues of UEFA have now almost become a “big seven”, given how Portugal and Netherlands look to be pulling away from the other non-big five leagues in the UEFA rankings.
Therefore, because of this could there be changes to the number of participating teams from associations ranked 5th to 7th?
Will the 5th ranked association (currently France) suddenly get a 4th UCL team up from the current allocation of 3? Will the 7th ranked association (currently the Netherlands) get a 3rd UCL team up from the current allocation of 2?
Nothing is a certainty, especially with reports suggesting that some of the additional spots in the extended UCL being held back for teams with high historical coefficient ratings.
However, expect Portugal and Netherlands now buoyed on by their teams’ impressive displays in European competitions this season to fight their own corner for additional spaces in the new UCL format.
Unchartered Territory for FC Barcelona, Blaugrana’s Uneasy Europa League Dilemma and No “Easy” Introduction to the Second Tier in the Shape of SSC Napoli
Thursday 25th March 2004, the last time FC Barcelona played in a non-UCL match. The result that night was a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou against Scottish outfit Celtic FC in the Round of Sixteen of the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League.
It was a result that saw Barca eliminated as The Bhoys won the first leg at Celtic Park 1-0 courtesy of an Alan Thompson goal.
The success and prestige that FC Barcelona have built for themselves in the nearly eighteen years since that shock loss to Celtic need no explanation. However, the day that many Barca fans thought impossible has occurred.
A 3-0 loss away suffered by Blaugrana at Allianz Arena on Matchday Six of the UCL group stage against Bayern Munich combined with a home victory for SL Benfica against Dynamo Kyiv confirmed Barca would drop into the 2nd tier UEFA club competition.
This is unchartered territory for Barca, now under the managerial guidance of legendary former midfielder Xavi Hernandez. Xavi’s start at Barca so far has been underwhelming, with only 3 victories in 8 matches, two of which by just single goal margins, highlighting the task of turning Barca around.
However, Xavi has in many quarters of the media understandably been defended owing to the much-publicised shedding of talent from Blaugrana’s roster due to poor financial management under the former presidency of Josep Bartomeu.
Barca dropping into the UEL has presented with it a difficult dilemma. The Catalan outfit currently sit 7th in La Liga.
Despite being only two points off 4th place & UCL qualification for 2022/23 via the league, recent weeks have seen a bunch of teams emerge in the race for both 3rd & 4th in La Liga with both Real Madrid and Sevilla pulling clear at the top.
Just 8 points separate Real Betis in 3rd place and Villarreal in 9th place with Rayo Vallecano, Atletico de Madrid, Real Sociedad, Barca and Valencia in-between.
Whilst one still would consider Barca favourites for a top four finish in La Liga come season’s end, given their current difficulties it is by no means a guarantee. In addition, whilst finishing in the top four would ensure a place in the UCL, it would mean that they miss out on a top seeding in the group draw.
A situation that would leave them vulnerable to drawing a top-seeded Manchester City or Bayern Munich. Winning the UEL on the other hand for Barca would guarantee UCL football and a top-seeding for the draw.
Whilst Barca are rightfully considered favourites for the UEL given their reputation, they have been handed a tough first knockout match against SSC Napoli. Luciano Spalletti’s outfit were widely tipped to win their group.
Nevertheless, Spartak Moscow stunned everyone, including twice defeating the Neapolitans in the group to finish top and earn themselves a bye to the Round of Sixteen.
How Napoli approach this tie could be conditioned by domestic results from now until the tie against Barca in mid-February. Currently seven points behind Inter at the top of Serie A, Napoli are still just about holding onto the coat-tails of the current Italian leaders.
However, Partenopei cannot afford too many more slip-ups. A few more defeats domestically and Napoli may shift more attention to their European campaign. Whereas, if the gap to Inter narrows before the Barca tie, Napoli could opt to sacrifice European football in order to go for the Serie A title.
The Other Highlights of an Incredibly Strong UEFA Europa League Knockout Round Playoff Draw
Barcelona vs Napoli might be the main attraction for this season’s first knockout round in what looks a very strong UEL. However, there are plentiful other mouth-watering ties to look forward to in the spring. The 2021/22 UEL looks one of the most exciting in years in addition to being very difficult to predict a winner.
In terms of ranking below Barca vs Napoli, three of the knock-out round play-off ties stand out: Rangers vs Borussia Dortmund, SS Lazio vs FC Porto and Real Sociedad vs RB Leipzig. After replacing Steven Gerrard as manager of Rangers, Giovanni van Bronckhorst has overseen 8 victories and 1 draw in his 9 matches in charge in all competitions so far.
Despite being underdogs for the tie, the Ibrox outfit can take hope from the fact that Marco Rose & Dortmund have only emerged victorious in three of their last seven Bundesliga matches and are out of the Bundesliga title race barring a miracle.
Porto were the last team from outside of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues to win the UEL back in 2010/11. Sergio Conceicao’s side, still reeling from a missed opportunity to progress in 2nd place in their UCL group behind Liverpool, face off against another side who will have had regrets over how the first part of their European campaign went in Lazio.
Maurizio Sarri’s outfit currently sit 8th in Serie A, seven points off 4th placed Atalanta and failed to win a UEL group which pre-draw they looked favourites for.
Real Sociedad vs RB Leipzig is a match between two sides enduring frustrating campaigns so far. After a 2-0 away victory over Osasuna on Matchday 13 of La Liga, La Real sat atop of the Spanish top flight. However, they have not won in their last five La Liga matches, which yielded four defeats & they have slipped down to 6th.
RB Leipzig’s Bundesliga campaign has never got going from the start, sitting a disappointing 9th in the standings and in Domenico Tedesco, are on their 2nd manager of the season after Jesse Marsch’s firing.
Other ties worth keeping an eye on include Russian Premier League champions Zenit St Petersburg who finished third in their UCL group facing Real Betis, currently 3rd in La Liga and SC Braga of Portugal facing a side who have stunned European football so far, Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol.
Will the Sheriff fairytale, which of course included that memorable victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu continue into 2022?
A Mostly Very Even Set Ties in the UEFA Europa Conference League Knockout Round Playoff Draw
If the first knockout round of this season’s UEL is arguably its highest calibre for many a year, one could say that this season’s knockout round play-off draw for the new UEFA Europa Conference League has presented a very evenly balanced set of ties on paper.
Perhaps the tie of the round is Celtic FC vs Bodo/Glimt. Bodo/Glimt wrapped up their second consecutive Norwegian Eliteserien title just last month. However, coach Kjetil Knudsen is now having to deal with the challenges of Bodo/Glimt’s star players catching the eye overseas and being sold on.
Immediately after their 2nd straight title triumph, attacker Erik Botheim & midfielder Patrick Berg departed the club for FK Krasnodar & RC Lens respectively, two deals which saw Bodo/Glimt rake in EUR 9.5 million in transfer fees.
Bodo/Glimt also face two other complications going into the match against Celtic. The 1st being a mental reset. A 1-1 draw away at Zorya Luhansk on Matchday Six of the UECL group stage cost them top spot in the group to AS Roma and a potential bye to the Round of Sixteen.
The 2nd complication is when the tie takes place, Bodo/Glimt will be on their winter break playing a Celtic side well into their domestic season having had plenty of competitive domestic games.
One source of intrigue will be how some of the dropouts from the UEL group stage treat the UECL. A case in point here is Olympique de Marseille.
Currently sitting in 3rd in Ligue 1, which would yield a UCL spot for 2022/23, will L’OM look to prioritise their league form to try and secure a place at European football’s top table next season? Or will Jorge Sampaoli’s outfit, who have been given a very winnable UECL tie against Azeri outfit Qarabag FK look to try and go on a run in Europe in the new year?
It will also be intriguing to see how Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City approach the UECL. The Foxes have endured a tough 2021/22 season so far, sitting currently in 9th place in the Premier League, a far cry from this stage last season when they were sitting in a top-four place.
With the defence of their FA Cup title soon coming up and a need to get their domestic form back on track, the UECL might be low on Brendan Rodgers’ priority. However, Leicester have been presented with what looks a very winnable tie against current Danish Cup holders Randers FC.
The theme behind the other ties in the first knockout round of the Europa Conference League draw is balance. PSV Eindhoven vs Maccabi Tel Aviv, Fenerbahce vs Slavia Prague, Midtjylland vs PAOK, Sparta Prague vs Partizan Belgrade and Rapid Vienna vs SBV Vitesse all look like ties which are difficult to predict a winner.
This unpredictability should make the knockout rounds of the inaugural Europa Conference League a competition certainly worth following in 2022.
The Final Countdown: A Last Chance to Secure Coefficient Points Before the Association Competition Re-Allocation for 2023/24
As aforementioned, the remainder of the 2021/22 season will be the last chance for clubs to gain coefficient points in UEFA’s club competitions to add to their country’s overall ranking before the number of teams each country gets in Europe is reset for the start of 2023/24.
The top fifteen ranked countries at the end of the 2021/22 season will have two clubs in either the UCL group stage or the UCL qualification rounds for 2023/24. As aforementioned, the top seven countries look well clear of everyone else.
Austria, currently ranked in 8th in the UEFA Country Rankings, are the currently best of the rest. With a coefficient of 37.850, a gap of 11.150 points ahead of 16th placed Greece, the Austrian Bundesliga is in no danger of dropping down so far to lose a 2nd Champions League spot for 2023/24 onwards.
Austria could be well-placed to add to their current co-efficient and strengthen their hand on 8th place. Whilst RB Salzburg could find it difficult to add more co-efficient points in their UCL Round of Sixteen clash against Bayern Munich, LASK Linz are already through to the UECL Round of Sixteen. In addition, Rapid Vienna look to have a very winnable tie against SBV Vitesse in the knockout play-off draw.
Turkey is currently in possession of the 15th spot in the UEFA rankings, however, their gap to 16th placed Greece is just 0.200 co-efficient points. Also strongly in the hunt for a 2nd Champions League qualification spot are Croatia, Denmark & Czech Republic, ranked 17th, 18th and 19th respectively. Just 0.500 co-efficient points separate all these UEFA nations ranked between 15th and 19th.
In this battle for coefficient supremacy, Midtjylland vs PAOK in the Conference League knock-out play-off draw looks crucial given it involves two of the nations involved in the close fight to get into the top 15 countries in the shape of Denmark and Greece.
With three teams still left in European competition (all in the UECL), Denmark looks to have an advantage over the other sides, especially with FC Copenhagen having won their UECL group and already into the Round of Sixteen.
Croatia have the hardest task to break into the top fifteen given they only have one representative left in European competition in the shape of Dinamo Zagreb who have been given a thankless looking task in the UEL knock-out play-off round against Sevilla FC.
Also fascinating to view will be whether historically low ranked nations with a representative still in European competition can continue to single-handedly boost that nation’s co-efficient. The two strong examples of this are Azerbaijan’s Qarabag and Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol.
By: Richard David Pike / @RichDPike89
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images / Quality Sport Images – Getty Images / James Williamson – AMA – Getty Images