The UEFA Europa Conference League will begin in the 2021-22 season. Find out all you need to know about the competition.
What is the UEFA Europa Conference League?
It is the new third-tier of European competition, below the Champions League and the Europa League.
The UEFA Europa League will now, for the most part, be for domestic cup winners. And the UEFA Europa Conference League is the minor competition primarily for those who qualify by league place though it will also include the cup winners from lower-ranked leagues.
How about a trip to Albania to take on KF Tirana? Or off to Estonia to take on FC Flora? Kuopion Palloseura (or KuPS) of Finland and FC Ararat-Armenia have also just failed to make the Europa League recently. Not to mention the Faroe Islands' Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag (luckily they are commonly known as KI!). All these teams could grace the group stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League in the future.
How many teams will be in the UEFA Europa Conference League?
There will be 32 teams in the group stage, and the new competition will feature 141 matches over 15 match weeks, exactly like the Europa League.
In total, 176 teams will participate at some stage.
So who will play in the UEFA Europa Conference League?
In simple terms, it's the teams who would have entered the Europa League at the preliminary round and first and second qualifying rounds.
As the competition is aimed at giving smaller countries more European football, only five clubs will come from the top European leagues -- all of which will enter in the final qualifying round. The lowest-ranked team in each of these national domestic leagues will switch from the Europa League to the Conference League.
For this season, Tottenham Hotspur, Granada, AC Milan, Wolfsburg and Reims would have played in the Conference League rather than the Europa League had it begun a year earlier.
No team would qualify automatically for the group stage, and only the five nations from the top leagues would start in the final qualifying round.
So who could be playing in the inaugural edition of this new competition? Based on current league positions alone (as of May 17) here are a selection of the possible participants (teams in bold have qualified):
Starting in the final qualifying round: West Ham, Villarreal, Union Berlin, AS Roma, Lens, Pacos de Ferreira
Starting in the third qualifying round: Rubin Kazan, Anderlecht, Fenerbahce, LASK, FC Copenhagen, Kolos Kovalivka, Vitesse
Starting in the second qualifying round: Guimaraes, Sochi, Mechelen, Trabzonspor, Wolfsberger, Aarhus, Vorskla Poltava, Feyenoord, Hibernian, Aberdeen, Jablonec, Slovacko, AEL Limassol, Apollon Limassol, Anorthosis Famagusta, Servette, FC Basel, Aris Thessaloniki, PAOK, AEK Athens, Partizan, Vojvodina, Cukaricki, Osijek, Gorica, IF Elfsborg, BK Hacken, Molde, Valerenga, Rosenborg, Maccabi Tel Aviv, FC Ashdod, Shakhter Karagandy, Tobol, Astana, BATE Borisov, Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino, Neftci Baku, Zira, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, CSKA Sofia, FCSB, Universitatea Craiova, Pogon Szczecin, Rakow Czestochowa
Who else could be involved?
As the winners of the two domestic cups -- Leicester City and Manchester City -- are guaranteed to finish inside the top six, it means 7th will go into the UEFA Europa Conference League.
It looks like being a straight battle between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, 6th and 7th respectively, though there is a small chance that Everton or Arsenal could still force their way into 7th. Would it be a prize or a poisoned chalice?
The place will go to 7th as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey.
The top four have pulled well clear of the rest, and that means one of Real Sociedad, Real Betis or Villarreal will qualify. One point separates the three teams.
If Villarreal win the Europa League and finish 7th, they will be elevated to the Champions League and Spain will have no representative in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Juventus (5th) will take on Atalanta (2nd) in the final of the Coppa Italia on May 19, so 7th is certain to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League. But who will get that place?
AS Roma sit 7th, but Sassuolo in 8th are just two points behind with one game to play.
Borussia Dortmund won the DFB Pokal, which means 7th will enter the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Borussia Monchengladbach and
Union Berlin sit 7th but must play runners-up RB Leipzig on the final day. That could open the door to one of three teams queueing up to capitalise on any dropped points: Borussia Monchengladbach, Stuttgart and Freiburg.
The Coupe de France final sees Paris Saint-Germain face AS Monaco. It means 6th is now assured of going into the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Marseille are in fifth and probably safe for the Europa League, three points ahead of Lens with a superior goal difference. Stade Rennes are a point further back and could yet take 6th.
When does the UEFA Europa Conference League begin?
Qualifying for minor nations will begin as early as June 15. One bonus for teams from the top leagues is they only have to play one qualifying round (rather than the three of recent seasons in the Europa League). So their road will begin on Aug. 19 with two matches to play rather than six.
Why has UEFA Europa Conference League been created?
Originally named "Europa League 2" as a working title, the competition was created to give teams from smaller nations, who would usually not make the group stage of European competition, a greater chance.
It means at least 34 countries will be represented in the group stages of the UEFA club competitions (the guaranteed number is 26 under the present format).
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said: "There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition."
Does this mean more teams will qualify for Europe?
No, the access list has simply been adjusted so teams from the smaller nations now play in this competition, and fewer clubs will go through Europa League qualifying.
Where will the UEFA Europa Conference League final be played?
Teams will head to the National Arena in Tirana, Albania, on Wednesday, May 24. The stadium has a capacity of just 22,500.
🏆 The Europa Conference League will launch next season.— UEFA (@UEFA) December 3, 2020
🇦🇱 🏟️ The #UEFAExCo has announced the competition's first final will be at Albania's new National Arena in Tirana in 2022!
Will teams drop down from Champions League and Europa League?
Yes, as follows:
Second qualifying round: 20 losers from Champions League qualifying enter
Playoff round: 8 losers from Europa League third-qualifying round enter
Group stage: 10 losers from Europa League playoff round enter
Knockout stage: 8 third-placed teams from Europa League groups enter
How many teams will qualify from the group stage?
The top two teams in each of the eight groups will advance to the knockout stage.
How will the knockout rounds work?
Group winners will automatically go through to the round of 16. But there will be a preliminary knockout round (or round of 32 as we now know it) where group runners-up will play two-legged ties against third-placed teams from the Europa League groups to reach the round of 16. The competition then adopts a traditional knockout format.
When will the games be played?
Fixtures will be on a Thursday, played at 4.30 p.m., 6.45 p.m. or 9 p.m. CET.
When will the UEFA Europa Conference League final be played?
The new format for European finals will be:
Wednesday, May 24: UEFA Europa Conference League
Thursday, May 25: UEFA Europa League
Saturday, May 27: UEFA Champions League
Do the winners qualify for the Europa League?
Yes, just as the Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League, the UEFA Europa Conference League winners will automatically be entered into the following season's Europa League.
So what do teams think of this?
The main issue is that all teams from the leagues ranked below 15th in the UEFA coefficient (based on five-year performance in Europe) are now locked out of the Europa League.
Teams from Cyprus, Switzerland and Greece just miss out and will have no route into the Europa League (other than dropping into it from Champions League qualifying).
The competition has received a lukewarm reception from leagues that regularly have teams who reach the Europa League group stage, who now feel they are being blocked from competing even at the second level of European football.
A more acceptable system may have been increased "trickle down" from Europa League qualifying into the UEFA Conference League, so as not to shut off that route for so many teams.
Will the Europa League change?
The streamlined qualification process means only two rounds will be played. Eight teams enter in the qualifying rounds, from the mid-ranked associations, with the remaining 16 places made up of Champions League losers.
Teams entering at this stage would be:
Third qualifying round
Cup winners from Czech Republic
Cup winners from Belgium, Ukraine, Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, Denmark and Scotland
Twelve teams will automatically start in the group stage, all from the top six leagues, plus the Europa Conference League title holders from the 2022-23 season. Ten come through qualifying and a further 10 drop in from the Champions League. It should ensure a much stronger Europa League compared to what we currently see.
Teams entering in the group stage
Cup winners from Spain, England, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and Russia
Fifth-placed teams from Spain, England, Germany, Italy
Fourth-placed team from France
There will also be a preliminary knockout round after the group stage (again, this is really the round of 32). The runners-up will play third-placed teams from the Champions League for a place in the round of 16.
As with the Europa Conference League, the Europa League group winners will skip a round compared to the current format, going straight to the round of 16.