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By Football Talk.

What will the proposed Champions League ‘play-off’ mean for the big four? News broke over the weekend that the premier league are considering a play off system to determine the fourth team to qualify for the Champions League.

If you haven’t read the stories, here is an overview of the proposal:

Champions League play-off

Currently the top four qualify for the Champions League. But the new proposal would see a play off between the teams that finish 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. The main argument for the change is to inject more competition into the Premier League as the same four teams qualify for the Champions League every year.

If a team that finished 7th has the chance to qualify for the Champions League, it is thought that it would breed more intense competition throughout the season as more teams would have something to play for.

The proposal was presented at the most recent meeting of all clubs on February 4th and the league’s chief executive Richard Scudamore will return in April with further details on the idea.

It is believed that the change has the support of all Premier League clubs except the current ‘big four’ Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

However, the premier league are confident they can get the required 14-6 majority vote to implement the proposal.

What will it mean for the big four?

It’s no surprise that the current top four oppose the idea. Why would they want to put their position under threat? The current system is working very well for them, they are obviously going to fight any proposal that could damage their chances of Champions League qualification.

Although the play-off games would generate more income and would no doubt be an exciting event. Current big four managers would be more than happy to miss out if it guarantees their champions league spot.

The other major reason for their opposition is that it would possibly mean a further 2-3 matches (depending on how they decide the format should work) in an already very long season. Big four clubs regularly play up to 60 games a season and could do without any more matches to squeeze in.

Imagine this system was in place when Liverpool won the champions league in 2005 but finished 5th in the premier league. They would have had to play the champions league final then possibly have to play 2-3 more play-off matches just to qualify for the competition they just won. It would be crazy.

A serious factor here must be the potential gulf in quality that could possibly qualify for the champions league and represent England on a European level. With teams like Fulham, Birmingham, Aston Villa and Everton fighting to finish seventh, would any of these teams seriously contend for the Champions League trophy like the top four do at the moment?

Potential scenario

Lets take last seasons final league positions and incorporate the new play-off system.

1 Man Utd 38 28 6 4 68 24 44 90
2 Liverpool 38 25 11 2 77 27 50 86
3 Chelsea 38 25 8 5 68 24 44 83
4 Arsenal 38 20 12 6 68 37 31 72
5 Everton 38 17 12 9 55 37 18 63
6 Aston Villa 38 17 11 10 54 48 6 62
7 Fulham 38 14 11 13 39 34 5 53

That was how the top seven finished in 2009. Arsenal finished a full 19 points ahead of seventh placed Fulham despite having a poor season. With the new play-off system Arsenal beat Everton over two legs and face Fulham in the final.  Arsenal have played 58 games this season, tired bodies and tired minds means they are not at their best. While a Fulham side have played about 15 games less and are much fresher. Fulham nick it on penalties. An unlikely scenario but it could happen.

In all seriousness, who would you rather see represent the Premier League in the champions league? A Fulham side with no champions league experience who, lets face it, would be lucky to get through the qualifying round, and if they did would be the group whipping boys. Or a side who is one of only four in Europe to  have qualified for the champions league for 10 consecutive seasons, reached the final, semi final and quarter final ‘s over the past five years and has a realistic chance of winning the trophy?

Yes some romantic football supporters will say it would great for a side like Fulham to be in the Champions League, but what would be the point? Really? They would be overwhelmed, go out early and be a waste of a premier league spot.

For teams like Manchester City and Spurs it would represent a good opportunity to step up a level and take on Europe’s best. They would hold their own. But there is always that chance that a side who punch above their weight for one season  COULD nick a place in the champions league.

They might as well just give the FA Cup winners the fourth place. At least then maybe the top four managers will take it a bit more seriously if they were having a poor league run. I can understand wanting to inject more competitiveness to the league, but at the end of the day the best four teams should qualify for the best competition in the world.

The one benefit i could see for the top four is that if one of them has a bad season, or had a season like Liverpool in 2005 when the concentrated so much on their Champions League run they let their Premier League form dip so much they finished fifth, they would get a second chance to qualify. But i still can’t see them being swayed into voting for it.


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