The world of football is becoming increasingly difficult to follow. There are seemingly changes in formats and breakaway leagues galore. Heck, most of us don’t even know what offside is anymore.
And to add a further complication, from next season there will be three tiers of European cup competition, with the Europa Conference League sitting below the existing Europa League and Champions League formats.
Yes, it’s all a bit confusing. But it also makes the final games of the Premier League season that bit more exciting, with the likes of West Ham, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton now battling it out for three different competitions.
In fact, in only 10 days’ time, will will know just who has secured a Champions League spot, who will be playing their football in the Europa League next season and who will be England’s test dummy and first-ever representative in the Europa Conference League.
Below, Sportsmail explains everything you need to know about the new tournament.
The newly-formed Europa Conference League is set to commence in the 2021/22 campaign
What on Earth is it?
Now, this seems a sensible place to start. In addition to the Champions League and Europa League, we now have a third European club competition – the Europa Conference League.
Essentially, the idea is that with another competition, more clubs will have the opportunity to play European football.
To use UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin’s words, ‘the new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before.
‘There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages.’
Well, in England anyway, that’s not wholly true. The Premier League will still have a maximum of seven teams participating in European football, including the new format.
The real benefit will be felt by those in leagues where they struggle to qualify for the existing two competitions.
But how does it work?
Just like the Champions League and Europa League, there will be multiple qualifying rounds to play before the tournament gets underway.
In fact, there will be three – before a final two-legged play-off round.
The English side who qualifies will go straight into the play-off round, which will be played on August 19 and 26, just five days after the 2021/22 Premier League season begins on August 14.
Europa Conference League Qualification
|| Second Leg
|*The English team will enter in the play-off round, while the Scottish team will enter in the second round
So, who will make up the groups? Well, there will be eight groups of four, with teams earning a place via three distinct paths:
1) 17 teams will qualify via the main path, which is through the qualifying rounds shown in the table above.
2) Five teams will qualify via the champions path, which is made up of those who have lost Champions League qualifiers and are then demoted to the Europa Conference League.
3) 10 team eliminated from the Europa League play-offs will also join.
Importantly, it’s now being ensured that 34 UEFA national associations get a minimum of one representative in the group stage of at least one competition.
And specifically for the Europa Conference League, England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany all get one team. Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Russia all get two.
Who will qualify from the Premier League?
Arsenal and Liverpool are among the teams who could qualify for the tournament
Now, this is the all important question. And I’m afraid, it’s not the most simple of answers.
Just to stress again, there is a maximum of seven Premier League teams who can enter European competition in any given season.
And as things stand, it’s looking pretty certain that it will be the seventh-placed Premier League side who qualifies.
Generally, it will be the winner of the Carabao Cup who earns a place in the competition. But this year – for the fourth consecutive season – it was Manchester City who lifted the cup, and they’ve already qualified for the Champions League.
That means their spot is passed to the next highest-placed Premier League side who have not qualified for a European competition.
However, this is also the case with the Europa League. Generally, the winner of the FA Cup will be granted a spot alongside the team that finishes fifth. But Leicester and Chelsea – who currently sit third and fourth respectively – are set to play in Saturday’s final.
Assuming both sides stay within the top five, the team in sixth place would get a place in the Europa League, with the Europa Conference League spot going to the team in seventh.
If the season ended now, West Ham and Liverpool would play in the Europa League, with Tottenham in the Europa Conference League.
What about Scotland?
Well, as mentioned above, Scotland will have two teams in the Europa Conference League. And this will go to the third and fourth-placed teams.
This is now wrapped up in Scotland, meaning we know Hibernian and Aberdeen will join next season’s Europa Conference League in the second qualifying round.
When will the matches be played?
The Europa Conference League fixtures will follow the pattern of the Europa League, with matches on Thursdays, kicking off at either 5.45pm and 8pm.
The group stages will be played between September 15 and December 9, with the knockout stages starting on February 17.
The final, which will be played in Tirana, Albania, will be played on May 25.
Europa Conference League Group Stage
Europa Conference League Knockout Stage
|| Second Leg
|Round of 16
What is the grand prize?
So, what’s the point? Similarly to the Europa League, where the winner earns a spot in the Champions League, the winner of the Europa Conference League will also move up a tier.
To put it simply, the winner of the Europa Conference League earns a spot in the group stages of the following season’s Europa League.
That is provided the team has not already qualified for the Champions League, of course.
The first final of the Europa Conference League will be played at the National Arena in Albania
What about the Europa League?
While the introduction of the new format will have no impact on the Champions League, there will be some changes to the Europa League.
The Europa League – notoriously an arduous competition – will now be shorter, with fewer teams competing in it.
The group stages in the Europa League will now have 32 teams, rather than 48, in eight groups of four.
The winners will all automatically progress into the last-16, with the round of 32 now gone. Additionally, there will be a knockout round before the last-16, comprised of those who finished second in the group and third in the Champions League groups.