Celtic and Rangers nightmare scenario: How automatic Champions League entry could be denied

Automatic entry into next season’s Champions League group stage and all the lucrative riches that accompany it await this season’s winners of the cinch Premiership. Or so it is thought.

Rangers and Celtic are in a straight fight for the title entering the last dozen matches of the campaign and Ange Postecoglou’s side hold a narrow advantage over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s defending champions.

It has widely been anticipated the league winner will be granted direct passage to the group stages of the continent’s top competition, courtesy of Scotland’s co-efficient built up over the past five years of European campaigns, meaning there is a golden ticket in prospect for the Premiership champions and a qualifying spot for the runners-up… but it’s not quite cut and dried.

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An unlikely scenario could still force this season's champions into play-off peril.

(Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)(Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

How it stands for Scotland having a UCL representative in 2022-23

Currently Scotland’s co-efficient ranking for the SPFL is 11th in Europe, which ordinarily permits two qualifying spots in the Champions League – one in the champions play-off round and another second qualifying round in the non-champions path.

How automatic entry Champions League entry can be assured

Although Scotland is just outside the top ten countries for automatic entry, it still occupies a strong position to claim a place.

A place in the group stage is always held for the winners to defend their trophy, but if they have already qualified via their domestic league placing, the automatic qualification spot is re-allocated to the country in the 11th place for an expanded national participation.

That means if any of the top four clubs in the English Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga or Spain’s La Liga win this year’s final in St Petersburg – the SPFL champions are in.

Likewise it could also apply if either of France or Portugal’s top two take the trophy, or Ajax if the Amsterdam side complete a UCL and Eredivisie double.

FC Salzburg are so far ahead in the Austrian Bundesliga, a shock elimination of Bayern Munich and cup win still shouldn’t be enough to deny the Old Firm.

How can the Old Firm be denied?

There are teams who might win the Champions League but not make it via their national league though – a win for whom would see Rangers and Celtic in the qualifiers next year.

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Based on current domestic standings a Champions League success for Atletico Madrid or Villareal (fifth and sixth in La Liga) or Benfica (third in Portugal) would be a nightmare scenario – as would Lille overturning holders Chelsea’s two-goal advantage achieved last night. They are 11th in Ligue 1.

They’re unlikely but there are other clubs still involved on the domestic positional precipice too – like fourth-placed Manchester United and Juventus – but each are 25/1 to win the trophy.

So Rangers and Celtic are really banking on a Champions League favourite to win, and sustained domestic form, for the top seven teams in the bookmakers’ markets – Manchester City, PSG, Liverpool, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Ajax – to ensure their place and £40m windfall next season... but never say never in football.

Anything else

Yes, there is one other route to the group stage open for Rangers – but that involves WINNING the Europa League. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side are currently best-priced 33/1.

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