FEATURE | The race for European football in La Liga

Following Real Betis’ Copa del Rey success at the expense of Valencia, it means Los Verdiblancos will be in Europe next season. How does that affect the European places for Spanish clubs next season?

Before we get into it, here is a brief reminder of the European spots available for Spanish clubs via domestic performance. The top four in La Liga earn a place in the Champions League group stage for the following season.

The Copa del Rey winner along with the fifth best team in the league play Europa League football. The Europa Conference League place is given to the team that ends the season in sixth. Should the cup winner finish in the top six, the seventh-place team takes the Conference League playoff spot.

Currently, Real Madrid have earned a Champions League position for next season as they will finish in the top four for 2021/22. Los Blancos are closing in on a 35th La Liga title.

Barcelona and Sevilla both have 63 points, with the Blaugrana being ahead on head-to-head. Atletico Madrid are two points back, occupying the final place for Europe’s premier club competition. Real Betis can still book a place in what would be only their second ever Champions League campaign. They are currently four points behind Diego Simeone’s side.

Betis won the Copa del Rey on Saturday, getting the better of Valencia on penalties. This means that they will partake in European football next September, with Europa League football the absolute minimum.

Real Sociedad are sixth on 55 points, which is currently good enough for a third successive season in the Europa League. They are three points ahead of Villarreal, who as things stand, would participate in the Conference League starting at the playoff round in late August. Another team in contention for a place in Europe is Athletic Club, who find themselves four points off the Yellow Submarine.

There is one thing worth noting about Villarreal that could change matters for who plays in which competition next season. Unai Emery’s team are in the semi-finals of the Champions League, facing Liverpool twice over the next week. Should they go on to win the Champions League, they will play Champions League football once again next September, irrespective of their domestic performance. While they could still sneak into the top four in the league, it is looking increasingly unlikely that that will happen.

To that point, it would mean Spain would (almost surely) have five Champions League participants as the top four and Villarreal would be in the group stage draw come 25 August. Furthermore, if the Yellow Submarines win the Champions League and finish fifth, sixth, or seventh, Spain would lose a Europa League or their sole Conference League place, depending on which competition they would qualify for via La Liga. Under this scenario, the Europa Conference League place occupied by Villarreal would not be transferred down to the next highest ranked team in the League.

This occurred last season when they won the Europa League title in a pulsating penalty shootout at Manchester United’s expense. Winning the Europa League also awards a Champions League place, so despite finishing seventh in the league (they occupied the Conference League position as Barcelona won the cup and finished ahead of them), Champions League football was on the horizon for Villarreal. History could very well repeat itself a year on, just at a higher level.

Finally, regarding Villarreal, should they win the Champions League and finish outside the European spots in La Liga, Spain would have eight teams next season in Europe; Villarreal plus the top four in the Champions League, Real Betis and fifth/sixth in the Europa League, and seventh (sixth if Betis finish seventh) in the Conference League.

Real Madrid, who are also in the Champions League semi-finals would bear no effect on any of the other Spanish clubs should they lift their 14th trophy in the competition since they are already guaranteed a top four place.

David Parkes

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