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Will the Premier League get five (or even six) Champions League Spots?

After years of thrilling group stage action, the Champions League format will move away from eight groups of four next season. Instead, 36 teams will compete in a Swiss model league format, with four home and four away games for each side. Of the four extra spots in Europe's top club competition, only two are fixed.

The remaining two places will be given to sides in the two leagues that perform best in European competition. It should come as no surprise that the Premier League sides are in the mix for one of those extra spots, but they face stiff competition to secure a fifth and maybe even a sixth Champions League spot.

The same rule applies as always that the top four teams from the Premier League qualify for the Champions League. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City will almost certainly occupy three of those spots at the end of the season, which leaves Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester United to fight it out for the remaining one or two spots.

As it stands, only one of these three clubs will quality for the Champions League, with Italy and Germany in the top two spots in the rankings.

As the graphic shows, there is virtually nothing between England and Germany in second place. Whilst France and Spain are still in with a thin chance, either country would realistically need to win at least two European competitions to earn an extra league phase spot for next season.

Early Champions League exits for the likes of RC Lens and Sevilla may well be too much to overcome for these two great footballing nations, even if Paris Saint Germain or Real Madrid were to win the Champions League.

So how exactly does the system work?

It's actually quite clever, albeit a bit complicated.

Each win (in any of the three European competitions) is worth two points, while a draw is worth one.

Beyond that, there are bonuses for reaching various stages of the three competitions, with the most points available in the Champions League, then fewer in the Europa League and the least in the Conference League.

There is a catch however. Each country's overall score is the average of all of their competing clubs across all three competitions; this is where the Premier League are being held back.

With Newcastle United and Manchester United both finishing last in their Champions League groups, the two sides are dragging down the English ranking.

Italy's clubs have realistically done enough to secure an extra place. Despite none of Serie A's sides progressing beyond the last 16 in the Champions League, Milan and Roma face each other in the Europa League, guaranteeing more points.

The fact that Inter, Napoli and Lazio all reached the knockout stages in the Champions League has also meant that Italy don't suffer from having lower ranking numbers dragging their average down.

Assuming then that Italy will be getting an extra Champions League spot, will it be England or Germany who get the other one?

Despite the Bundesliga clubs' lead, the Premier League clubs are far more likely to secure a fifth league phase place, purely because they have more clubs still competing.

England and Germany each have two clubs remaining in the Champions League, including Arsenal and Bayern Munich who meet in the quarter-finals. But Bayer Leverkusen are the only other German side left in Europe; Liverpool, West Ham (both Europa League) and Aston Villa (Conference League) are all competing in the Thursday night competitions.

Even though the German teams have put together a slightly more impressive rankings to this point, one of their clubs would realistically have to win a European competition this season to get that fifth league phase spot.

According to the odds for the match ups between them, Bayer Leverkusen are favourites to knock out West Ham and Arsenal are backed to get revenge on Bayern Munich. But Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City are all favourites for their ties. On top of that, Atletico Madrid are considered narrow favourites against Borussia Dortmund.

There is another twist in the tail however. West Ham, despite being underdogs in the rest of their European matches this season, could still win the Europa League.

If they did so, not only would this almost certainly give England enough ranking points to get a fifth league phase spot, but West Ham, given that they won't finish in the top five in the Premier League, would qualify for the Champions League as well.

So another legendary European run for the Hammers and an Arsenal victory over Bayern Munich might just put six Premier League clubs in next season's Champions League.

The only hope for Germany to secure the extra place is for Bayer Leverkusen to win the Europa League and for both Arsenal and Manchester City to lose their blockbuster ties to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

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