It was a massive group stage across the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference Leagues and we are now set to move into the round of 16 in the UCL while the UEL and UECL will hold their knockout round playoff stages after teams dropped down from the European competitions above. The stakes are higher than ever this year given the incoming changes to the Champions League from next season and the situation has created two separate coefficient battles which will determine how many teams from the different leagues will qualify for next campaign's competitions. The battle for a fifth UCL spot via the league has mainly concerned Germany, Italy, England and Spain but France and the Netherlands have also been battling to be part of that top five with the French currently ahead before the move to the so-called "Swiss" format.
We break down why the UEFA coefficient means so much in European soccer right now and why you will be hearing much more about it as continental soccer gets back underway.
Extra UCL place ranking
- 1: Italy -- 14.000 points (7/7 teams)
- 2: Germany -- 13.642 points (6/7 teams)
- 3: England -- 13.625 points (6/8 teams)
- 4: Spain -- 12.867 points (6/8 teams)
- 5: Czechia -- 12.000 points (3/4 teams)
- 6: Belgium -- 11.600 points (3/5 teams)
- 7: France -- 11.583 points (6/6 teams)
- 8: Turkiye -- 10.500 points (2/4 teams)
- 9: Netherlands -- 8.600 points (3/5 teams)
- 10: Denmark -- 8.500 points (1/4 teams)
What is this?
Two of Europe's domestic leagues will receive additional Champions League places as part of the incoming expansion to a 36-club competition. Four more clubs will qualify than is currently the case and two of those four spots will be awarded to the domestic leagues which have fared best across Europe this season. Each win is worth two coefficient points with one point awarded for a draw and zero for a loss with each country judged on the best average coefficient of all of its competing sides. Bonus points do exist which provides an extra boost -- especially in the Champions League -- on top of the points gained by all clubs which get added together and then divided by the number of participating clubs which in turn creates the coefficient average.
Why do we have this?
UEFA's coefficient ranking is designed to measure the respective strength of each domestic league through its collective continental performances. Wins count the same across all competitions because it would be otherwise impossible for leagues without Champions League group stage representatives to ever advance up the ranking system. Bonus points might count for less below the UCL, but some leagues -- such as the Netherlands in recent years -- have benefitted from dropping out of the Champions League and into the Europa League and building up points there or in the Europa Conference League. Each two-legged tie has five potential points at stake and the UEL and UECL both feature playoff games when teams drop down from the higher ranked competitions.
Overall European coefficient
- 1: England -- 100.553 points (13.625 points from 6/8 teams in 2023-24)
- 2: Spain -- 86.114 points (12.687 points from 6/8 teams in 2023-24)
- 3: Italy -- 83.284 points (14.000 points from 7/7 teams in 2023-24)
- 4: Germany -- 80.909 points (13.642 points from 6/7 teams in 2023-24)
- 5: France -- 62.164 points (11.583 points from 6/6 teams in 2023-24)
- 6: Netherlands -- 59.900 points (8.600 points from 3/5 teams in 2023-24)
Why the gap between France and Netherlands?
With the Champions League format changing in 2024, the way that European soccer's top club competition functions is also about to be altered. The impact upon leagues behind the likes of the Premier League and La Liga could be significant with France and the Netherlands the two most likely to be immediately affected as soon as next year. Because of this, coefficient gains have started to matter more than ever before and head-to-head encounters have been worth more than just three simple group stage points. Coefficient points, for those wondering, are totals accrued per country through historic UCL performances over the years.
Break it down for me…
Essentially, this is a question of Champions League group stage spots with the incoming change to a "Swiss-system" structure set to change the competition format as we know it. Associations one to four -- England, Spain, Italy and Germany -- will have four group stage representatives from 2024-25 with France and the Netherlands vying to be the fifth association which also gets four clubs directly involved in the group stage. Association six, so also either the French or Dutch, still gets three clubs into the groups, but associations seven to 15 get just two -- note the sharpening drop-off between fifth and sixth.
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So what does it change?
Right now, France only gets three Champions League group stage places and one of those clubs has to go through qualification. That was former winners Marseille this season, and they fell in the qualifying rounds so dropped into the Europa League where they were in Group B with Dutch giants Ajax who have since dropped into the Europa Conference League as part of a wretched year. France is re-establishing itself as the historic fifth of Europe's top soccer powers and will suddenly double Ligue 1 representation in the UCL groups if they can consolidate this.
Why does it matter?
As with so many things, money is arguably the main motivation with the Champions League group stages set to be more lucrative with more games and longer runs for those involved. For French and Dutch soccer, two traditional powerhouses of youth talent development, that is a golden chance to stay in touch with Europe's top tier without having to always sell top young players year after year. The impact on the Eredivisie and particularly Ligue 1 -- already a financial mess since COVID-19 -- could be huge so games such as Lens vs. PSV and Marseille vs. Ajax matter greatly as they directly influenced this unfolding scenario. However, all is not lost when one single team loses out over those games as coefficients depend upon all competing teams which has seen France generally performing better than the Netherlands so far. You only have to look at how the Eredivisie celebrated Dutch soccer overtaking Portugal on the continental stage from earlier this year to understand that this is serious business to all involved.
Why is it a French and Dutch thing?
France will start the 2024-25 system change in the top five, so with four clubs in the group stage, but the Netherlands went ahead ahead with a view to the 2025-26 campaign before slipping back -- although they could secure a fourth spot if they manage to get back in front. The rankings for the second term of the incoming "Swiss-system" will be decided before this UEFA edition is even finished so every single result counts -- especially when it involves Ligue 1 and Eredivisie sides. However, it does really matter to all of the top leagues with the Premier League and La Liga suddenly behind both Serie A and the Bundesliga for an extra Champions League place.
So, it might concern others too?
In time, yes -- Portugal are lagging behind France and the Netherlands (more than six full points) but could recover ground to push for a top five berth in time while a Germany or Italy could be caught up by the French or Dutch years down the line if Serie A and/or Bundesliga clubs have an off year. However, none of those scenarios are remotely close to being reality today which is why the coefficient battle is currently raging between Ligue 1 and Eredivisie clubs more than anybody else. It also extends to leagues on the cusp of an additional UCL spot such as Czechia -- unexpectedly strong in fifth place for an extra UCL spot.
How did Ligue 1 and Eredivisie fall so far?
The Netherlands has produced six European champions to France's one -- even Portugal has had four winners. In that sense, French soccer is not one of the top five all-time most titled domestic European leagues. However, Ligue 1's sole Champions League win came in 1993 when Marseille won the first-ever rebranded UCL. Ajax won it two years later in 1995 -- so both meeting in this year's Europa League group stage was indicative of both nation's struggles -- while Jose Mourinho's FC Porto triumphed in 2004 against AS Monaco of France. In solely the Champions League era, Ligue 1 and Eredivisie have one win apiece and both came almost 30 years ago. France and the Netherlands have since become two of European soccer's greatest talent exporters which undermines French and Dutch clubs' ability to consistently compete in the Champions League. There have only been fleeting relative successes such as 2020 finalists Paris Saint-Germain and semifinalists Olympique Lyonnais, or the Monaco side of 2017 as well as Ajax's 2019 semifinal run. However, unlike their Ligue 1 rivals, Eredivisie clubs immediately recognized that Europa League and the Europa Conference League form also boosts the Dutch coefficient with Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar enjoying deep recent runs which has closed the gap on France. One or two additional Champions League spots could make a huge difference to how attractive the French and Dutch leagues are to both players and investors as well as its potential impact on lucrative TV rights deals -- it is not only about the money that participating clubs will receive each year from 2024-25.
When will it be decided?
For the 2024-25 season, it has already been set -- France will start the new system with four group stage representatives but the Netherlands ran them very close and led until the last few rounds of games. For 2025-26, at least at this moment in time, the Dutch have been overtaken by the French thanks to the continued good European form of Ligue 1 clubs this year. Neither Le Championnat nor the Eredivisie can afford to have an off year and France has even structured its Ligue 1 finances -- with the aid of a private equity-funded bailout package -- to benefit those clubs regularly competing in Europe when it comes to distributing its international TV money. Short of France truly pulling away this year or an unexpectedly poor succession of years for an Italy or a Germany, this is likely to remain a hot topic for at least the next few years.
Next key games
UCL: Napoli vs. Barcelona, PSG vs. Real Sociedad, Inter vs. Atletico Madrid, PSV vs. Dortmund and RB Leipzig vs. Real Madrid.
UEL: Feyenoord vs. Roma, Milan vs. Rennes and Lens vs. Freiburg.
UECL: Ajax vs. Bodo/Glimt.