The majority of English Premier League clubs are apparently in favour of introducing play-offs to decide on the fourth Champions League place. This is understandable as it could open the door to Europe’s top competition for a host of new clubs, and help to end the stranglehold the ‘big four’ have on the Premier League. In five of the last six seasons, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have occupied the top four places in the table, with other clubs struggling to go the distance over a 38 game league campaign.
The proposal involves the teams finishing between fourth and seventh at the end of the league season competing for the last Champions League spot. This will most likely involve two-legged semi-finals and a final which could be held at Wembley, similar to the Football League play-offs. Alternatively, the final could be home and away over two matches, with the team finishing highest in the table having the (possible) advantage of hosting the second leg.
The most obvious advantage of such a change is that it could reward ambitious clubs who have tried to break into the top four but fallen short. Teams like Aston Villa, Tottenham and Man City would benefit in terms of the standard of opposition they would face when competing against Europe’s elite, as well as the financial rewards that would come their way. This revenue, combined with an increased profile across Europe and beyond, would allow clubs to attract a higher standard of player and could enable them to challenge at the top on a more regular basis.
It could be argued that it’s unfair for the side finishing fourth in the table to potentially lose out to a club who ended the season three places below them. However, like the play-offs in the Championship, the rules are clearly laid out at the start of the season so everyone’s in the same boat. As for the club finishing fourth, why should they have a straightforward route into the Champions League anyway, particularly if they’ve made absolutely no impression on the title race.
The timing of this proposal is ironic, given that the current fight for fourth place in the English Premier League is the fiercest for a number of years, with Villa, Spurs and City all looking capable of making the breakthrough anyway. Regardless of whether the motivation behind this idea is for the good of the game, or purely financial, it could add an extra bit of excitement at the end of the English football season.