Liverpool, Chelsea & Spurs feel Champions League pressure

Champions League's ambassador Turkish former footballer Hamit Altintop (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Champions League's ambassador Turkish former footballer Hamit Altintop (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Premier League’s Champions League representatives are feeling even more pressure than usual…

The UEFA Champions League returns after an abnormally long absence on Tuesday with the round of 16. All four English teams who started in the tournament remain, though the pressure increases at this stage.

For Manchester City, it is simply a matter of winning the one major tournament to elude them. With the difficult situation the club finds itself off the field, a Champions League triumph would be a massive boost for the Cityzens.

For Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea, the pressure is greater, particularly of the latter two. It is more than just silverware that is on the line here. A ticked to the Champions League group stage for the 2023/24 season is up for grabs. At the time of writing, neither of the three are in the top four in the Premier League. While Antonio Conte’s Spurs are just outside of the UCL places in the league, the same cannot be said for Liverpool nor Chelsea.

Lagging in ninth and 10th place respectively, both clubs are out of the running for the top four. In fact, neither would even qualify for the Europa League nor Europa Conference League given how low they are in the tables. The pair are also out of the cup competitions, meaning that as of right now, the only way back into Europe for Liverpool and Chelsea is to win the Champions League.

The importance of winning the Champions League

Qualifying for the Europe’s premier club competition is absolutely crucial for clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea. From a financial standpoint, the money available in the Champions League can make or break these teams’ seasons.

Thinking on something like Financial Fair Play, losing out on making the UCL affects how much a team can spend in the upcoming season(s). Given Cheslea’s relentless spending in the last two transfer windows, missing out on Champions League football could be detrimental for their finances.

To that point, attracting players also becomes a challenge without UCL football, at least for some clubs. Seeing that Liverpool is pushing for Jude Bellingham in the summer, not qualifying for Europe would make it incredibly unlikely for the young Englishman to join the Reds.

This would pertain to Spurs, but if the North London side was to finish in a Europa League or Europa Conference League spot, that would mean playing on Thursdays and Sundays. That is usually a more draining schedule, as room for rest is less.

Other teams that would currently miss out on the Champions League

As things stand, only nine of the 16 remaining Champions League sides would qualify for the competition via domestic performance. Manchester City is included in that nine. Excluding the Premier League clubs already mentioned, the other teams currently not poised for CL football are AC Milan, RB Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Club Brugge. The first three clubs mentioned would all be bound for the Europa League, while the latter would have to settle for Conference League football, starting their European campaign in mid-July.

Liverpool and Chelsea are the only teams in the Champions League that would not qualify for Europe at all as things stand. It is also worth noting that nine of the 16 teams are also competing in their country’s domestic cup. Manchester City and Spurs are both in the FA Cup, currently at the round of 16. Do remember though, that winning the cup only provides Europa League football for the English teams.

Looking past the Champions League, of the 48 teams left in the Europa League and Conference League, 13 of them are outside of the European places in their league. Eight of those 13 are still left in their domestic cup though, which provides a glimmer of hope.

Included in that eight is West Ham. David Moyes’ Irons have had a torrid campaign in the Premier League. They are involved in a relegation scrap, which was not expected at the start of the season. However, they are left in the Conference League, qualifying for the last 16. On top of that, they are also still in the FA Cup.

Winning a UEFA club competition but failing to qualify for Europe domestically

Only once in this century has a club won a European trophy but failed to qualify for continental football via domestic performance. That actually happened last season, as Frankfurt won the Europa League despite finishing 11th in the Bundesliga. They earned a Champions League berth as a result of winning UEFA’s second tier club competition, giving Germany five spots in the competition.

Before that, one would have to go back to the 1996/97 season to see the last time such a feat was achieved. That was also done by a German side, Schalke 04. They triumphed in the UEFA Cup, the Europa League’s predecessor, while finishing a lowly 12th spot in the Bundesliga then.

Such a scenario has never occurred in the Champions League era. The last team to win UEFA’s premier club competition but not qualify for Europe domestically was Juventus back in 1984/85. The Bianconeri finished sixth in the Serie A despite winning the European Cup. They would return to the competition as holders the season after.

So, Chelsea and Liverpool could go into the history books if they go all the way in the Champions League this season but seldom finish in a European place via the Premier League. Whether we will see this scenario pan out this spring, or in the upcoming years, remains to be seen.