With Rangers and Them both into the Europa League group stages and having made a decent start, it’s probably time to take a wee consideration into one of the many obsessions of the Scottish fitbaw fan. That’s right boys and girls, get your calculators and Excel spreadsheets out - It’s time for some red hot coefficient chat!
It may come as no surprise to you to learn that Scottish clubs have been totally shite in Europe for a number of years now, which is we why need to slog through eighteen rounds of games against teams of cattle farmers from countries smaller than the Shiraz section of Dave King’s wine cellar* before actually getting to play anyone yer da has heard of
However, that’s all changed, because we’re back in business, baby, and now our glorious fatherland has actually managed to have a few teams being decent all at the same time for once. Both us and Them have a decent chance of making a deep run, and Hibs didn’t disgrace themselves in qualifying. Despite our Ovinophilic friends in the north getting a tough draw and falling at the first hurdle, we’re already four places up the table compared to last year.
So, what does that do for us? Well, hee haw is the answer there. If we get up to 19th, then we’ll skip a qualifying round next season, but that’s not exactly a tremendous prize. The real gravy comes at getting to 15th - that means an extra Champions League qualifying spot, and an extra team getting to the Europa League.
Of course, the second qualification spot will have to go through the far harder qualifying route, although the decision to just wave through all teams from the big four countries into the group stage has made that slightly easier than in previous years, with no possibility of drawing the likes of Manchester United or Borussia Dortmund.
Unfortunately, we’ve plenty of competition for it. Our rivals for that spot are as follows:
Serbia - who still have Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, but who have an extremely tough Champions League spot and are therefore very much underdogs.
The Czech Republic - who have three teams left in Europe, with Slavia Prague getting off to a decent start, Jablonec having an easyish group (though they lost to Rennes) and Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League (who are in a hard as nails group but have already picked up a point.)
Cyprus - How do they do it? Christ knows, but they’ve got two teams in the Europa League, although both lost their first games.
Croatia - Just Dinamo Zagreb left in for the Croats after we did for their compatriots, but they look like having a good chance to go through.
Switzerland - probably the favourites, with Zurich having won their first Europa League game and Young Boys in the Champions League, although the latter are in a real group of death.
Basically, we’re significant underdogs for the spot, with the Swiss and Czechs likely to pip us. We’d have to hope that the Czechs slow down considerably, and that Young Boys don’t pick up a single point, Zurich crash out and both us and Them get to the round of 32 and beyond.
But wait! There’s a sliver of hope. This is of course a UEFA tournament, so naturally it gets even more complicated. The coefficient points earned is an average, affected by the number of teams who qualified. That means that a win or a draw is worth more in points to us than it is to the Swiss teams still left in, giving us a slight edge.
Despite that, we really do have to hope that both the Swiss and the Czechs make an arse of it and we both cruise through and at least one of us makes a good run. Should we clinch that elusive 15th place, then of course it won’t come into place next season - it’ll be the season after that. Then our coefficient will be ruined by having some jobbers like Motherwell qualify for the Europa League by accident, probably.
So, in other words, if we want to be in the big tournaments next season, we’ll just have to go and beat Celtic** to the title this year. Sounds like a challenge. Let’s go.
*And a higher GDP too, presumably