Why 3rd in the Premiership is vital - 5-way battle, Hearts windfall, Aberdeen, Hibs, St Mirren and Livi chase

It is another significant week in the battle for third in the Scottish Premiership as five teams chase what could be a lucrative spot.

Six points separate Hearts in third and Livingston in seventh with three games remaining before the split. The Gorgie side had a stronger hold of the position until recently with four defeats from their last five games. It has allowed Aberdeen to close the gap to one point. This weekend, Robbie Neilson’s men host St Mirren who are only four points behind, Aberdeen welcome Derek McInnes and Kilmarnock to Pittodrie, Livingston travel to Motherwell and Hibs take a trip to Tannadice to face Dundee United on Sunday.

How many European spots do Scotland get?

Five teams qualify for Europe. The Premiership winners go into the Champions League group stages with the runners-up entering at the third qualifying round. The Scottish Cup winners or third place – if Celtic or Rangers win the cup – will go into the Europa League and enter at the play-off round. The other two teams will go into the Conference League. If Celtic or Rangers win the cup that means fourth and fifth in the Premiership. The former will enter at the third qualifying round, the latter the second qualifying round.

Why is third so important?

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Finishing ‘best of the rest’ behind Celtic and Rangers could mean group stage European football next season. Hearts played eight games in Europe this season having finished third in 2021/22. They faced FC Zurich in the Europa League play-off before dropping into the Conference League where they were drawn against Fiorentina, Istanbul Basaksehir and RFS.

Does third guarantee group stage football?

Not quite. Whoever wins the race for third will hope either Celtic or Rangers win the Scottish Cup. The Scottish Cup winners take Scotland’s spot in the Europa League play-off. However, Celtic and Rangers will have qualified for the Champions League via their league position. If Falkirk or Inverness CT win the cup they would qualify for the Europa League play-off spot. Providing they don’t, it will be the team third in the Premiership.

Aberdeen and Hearts are battling it out for third place. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)Aberdeen and Hearts are battling it out for third place. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
Aberdeen and Hearts are battling it out for third place. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

How much money is third spot worth?

Hearts predicted this season's involvement in Europe will have brought in around £5million, £3million of which is a profit. The club suggested that since they invested in infrastructure this campaign profit would be higher if they qualified for a second season running. Rangers’ run to the Europa League final in 2021/22 was worth over £18million.

When is the Europa League play-off?

The draw is made on August 7 with the two legs played on August 24 & 31.

What happens if the team loses the play-off?

Like Hearts last season, the team would drop into the Conference League group stage. Those fixtures will be played on the same days as the Europa League matches. September 21, October 5 & 26, November 9 & 30 and December 14. The draw for the groups is on September 1.

When do the Conference League qualifiers begin?

Scotland’s representative in the second qualifying round will discover their opponents on June 21 with the games taking place on July 27 and August 3. The third qualifying round draw is July 24 with games on August 10 and 17.



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