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 April 1) here are a selection of the possible participants:
Starting in the final qualifying round: Tottenham Hotspur, Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio, Lens, Pacos de Ferreira
Starting in the third qualifying round: Guimaraes, Genk, Lokomotiv Moscow, Fenerbahce, LASK, Aarhus, Zorya Luhansk, AZ Alkmaar
Starting in the second qualifying round: Sochi, Oostende, Trabzonspor, Sturm Graz, FC Copenhagen, Vorskla Poltava, Vitesse, Hibernian, Aberdeen, Jablonec, Slovacko, AEL Limassol, Apollon Limassol, Servette, Lugano, Aris Thessaloniki, PAOK, Partizan, Vojvodina, Osijek, Gorica, IF Elfsborg, BK Hacken, Molde, Valerenga, Rosenborg, Maccabi Tel Aviv, FC Ashdod, Shakhter Karagandy, Tobol, Astana, BATE Borisov, Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino, Qarabag, Zira, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, CSKA Sofia, CFR Cluj, Universitatea Craiova, Pogoń Szczecin
Who else could be involved?
The situation in England is a little complicated, due to its second cup competition. By rights, the winners of the Carabao Cup go into the UEFA Europa Conference League as UEFA considers it to carry the least worth of England’s three spots outside the Champions League berths.
In any other season, by now we’d know who that is — but the final between Manchester City and Tottenham has been delayed until April 25. If the winners qualify for Europe via another route the place transfers to the league. We can be pretty sure that City are going to be playing in the Champions League, but if Tottenham lift the trophy they will be in the UEFA Europa Conference League unless they finish in a European place in the Premier League.
If Man City win the Carabao Cup, the place for the UEFA Europa Conference League will go to 7th in the Premier League (6th if Southampton win the FA Cup).
West Ham (5th), Tottenham (6th), Liverpool (7th), Everton (8th), Arsenal (9th) and Aston Villa (10th) are the most likely contenders. Would it be a prize or a poisoned chalice?
Now it gets more straight-forward! The place is due to go to the sixth-placed team in La Liga, but it will move down to seventh if Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey on April 17.
The top four have pulled well clear of the rest, and there is a seven-point gap between 7th and everyone else.
That means one of Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal is most likely to qualify.
Juventus (3rd) will take on Atalanta (4th) in the final of the Coppa Italia on May 19, which means 7th is pretty likely to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League. But who will get that place?
Lazio sit 7th, with a 10-point gap to Sassuolo. AS Roma are a point ahead of Lazio with Napoli in fifth.
It’s not impossible that Atalanta or Juve could win the Coppa Italia and finish 7th, and that would result in 6th being in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
It’s slightly more difficult to work out in Germany, as the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokal will not be completed until next week. Of the five teams remaining in the competition, only Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig are in European positions — though they have been kept apart in the semifinal draw.
It’s still very likely that 7th will take the final place in Europe, and there’s several clubs who could play in it. Even Borussia Dortmund can’t be totally sure they would avoid it, but more likely candidates are Bayer Leverkusen, Union Berlin, SC Freiburg, VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Monchengladbach.
With France cancelling the Coupe de la Ligue from this season, it now has a European format in line with the other top leagues (other than England, of course).
That said, the Coupe de France has been severely delayed by the coronavirus pandemic which halted the competition when amateur teams were still involved. So we’re only at the round-of-16 stage.
It means 5th or 6th will go into the UEFA Europa Conference League. The top four are well clear, with Lens in fifth ahead of Marseille, Stade Rennes, Montpellier, FC Metz and Angers.
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 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.
🇦🇱 🏟️ The #UEFAExCo has announced the competition’s first final will be at Albania’s new National Arena in Tirana in 2022!
— UEFA (@UEFA) December 3, 2020
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.
The Europa League group winners will skip a round compared to the current format, going straight to the round of 16.