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UEFA Coefficients: Germany Closing In on England

With the UEFA Champions League grinding on, and Germany (led by FC Bayern) making an impressive showing, we decided to dig into a topic we've been discussing off and on for a few months: the UEFA country coeffcient. Spain ranks atop the list, but changes may be in store. Read on to see how and why.

Alex Grimm

As best I can understand and succinctly explain, the UEFA country coefficient works as follows: every one of UEFA's 53 national FAs are awarded points for their clubs' performances in continental play - both Champions League and Europa League. (This is different from the national coefficient, that ranks international sides for World Cup and Euro, etc, purposes; we're talking only about club play here). Every time a team wins or draws a match in continental play, points are awarded. Wins are worth more than draws, and play-in and qualifying rounds are worth less than group stage and knockout stage rounds. Then, countries are awarded special bonus points for reaching the group stage and the knockout stage of the CL, and more are awarded for each further round a team advances in both CL and EL play. Finally, these points are divided by the total numbers of clubs the national FA has playing in Europe that year to give the particular year's coefficient.

If you want further details, you can check out the fine print here, but the basic situation is this: the sum of all coefficients from a 5-year period (the current year and the preceding four years) is used to determine each country's "Coefficient Total." This number can be calculated at any point, even mid-round. But the important points of calculation take place at the end of the UEFA calendar year. The number of CL and EL spots that each FA is assigned are determined at that time (although there is a lag, with spots assigned or taken away only a year after the calculation is made). Long-time readers will remember that Bayern was fighting for 3d place a few years ago in order to get a CL spot; since then, Germany has taken away a 4th CL spot by leapfrogging Italy in the rankings.

So, here's how the situation looks right now. This includes this week's CL results, but not the current Europa League results (matches that are going on right now):

Nation 08-09 09-10 10-11 11-12 12-13 (current) Current Coefficient Total
Spain 13.312 17.928 18.214 20.857 15.285 85.596
England 15.000 17.928 18.357 15.250 12.857 79.392
Germany 12.687 18.083 15.666 15.250 14.928 76.614
Italy 11.375 15.428 11.571 11.357 12.916 62.647
France 11.0 15.0 10.750 10.5 11.25 58.5
Portugal 6.785 10.0 18.8 11.833 9.750 57.168

This is right from the horse's mouth, as of 11:40 Eastern this morning. The first thing to look for when reading the chart is the oldest (left-most) figure for each national FA. This number will "come off the books" when this season ends and the subsequent CL qualifying campaign starts. Counter-intuitively, supporters of a particular nation want this number to be poor (low). If the number being removed is a low one, it's removal will provide a bounce to the country in question, relative to other countries they're competing with. If the number being removed is a good/high one, they're more likely to be at risk of getting passed - that one good year that was bolstering their overall Coefficient Total is being removed from consideration.

So, with that in mind (and, again, with the disclaimer that this is all just my calculations and could be erroneous or incomplete), it appears that England is in some trouble in their attempts to hang on to the number 2 spot. Much of their current lead over Germany will be wiped out simply by the passage of time: in the 5-year old figure, England has a 2.313 point lead, and only about a 2.7 point lead overall. Germany has rather little to do in order to pass them, considering Dortmund has already advanced to the quarterfinals of the CL (looking threatening while doing so), and Bayern and Schalke both have a solid chance to join them.

Keep in mind, though, that England still has a trio of clubs fighting for the Europa League trophy: Newcastle, Chelsea and Spurs, all of whom are too talented to be written off entirely in that weak-ass competition. Those clubs could go on deep runs in the EL, picking up two points per win and bonus points per round advanced. If that happens and the German teams struggle in the Champions League (ha), England could still hang on to that #2 spot.

Another interesting situation a little lower: Portugal currently sits in 6th place. About where you'd expect to find them, in my opinion. But their about-to-be-scrubbed number is a low one. Remember, that serves as a positive, as the mere passage of time will wipe away current advantages of roughly 4 and a half points on the part of both France and Italy. This would automatically allow Portugal to pass at least France. As we've seen, though, France has a punchers chance at a deep CL run this year with Paris St. Germain, and Italy has a decent chance to send both Juventus and AC Milan to the quarterfinals. Portugal, meanwhile, is relying on Porto hang on to their slender 1-0 lead just to get a single club to that spot.

With all of that in mind, here are some upcoming matches that might swing the coefficient balance one way or another:

- Bayern vs. Arsenal, March 13

Big, but I feel pretty confident that Die Roten can hold on to the 3-1 lead and advance.

- Malaga vs. Porto, March 13

As mentioned above, Portugal can make a surprising climb this year, but they really need a win here.

- Tottenham Hotspur vs. Inter Milan, March 7 and March 14

Huge. Not only does the winner get big points for advancing, but (considering the level of EL competition) has a good chance to go even deeper and bring home more yet points as we get into April. But how much importance are these teams going to ascribe to Thursday play, when both are facing vital domestic matches every weekend?

- Benfica vs. Bordeaux, March 7 and March 14

Doesn't get any bigger than this: Portugal vs. France with valuable points on the line. It's a great bet that whatever club advances here will wind up higher than the other when the new country coefficient is determined next summer.

- Schalke 04 vs. Galatasaray

Having 3 teams in the CL quarterfinals (while England has zero) would be a huge edge to Germany. Die Blau and Scheiss hold a slight advantage (1-1 score, but they have an away goal), but the Turks have talent and can punish you for any mistake. And S04's form, while currently on the upswing, has been known to oscillate pretty wildly from week to week.

- VfB Stuttgart vs. Lazio, March 7 and March 14

If you blow this one, Ruiners, we are throwing you out of the league.

Of course, one of the unfortunate things is that none of these exciting battles for coefficient ranks is actually going to determine new assignments of CL spots. Spain, Germany, and England all currently have an iron-clad lock on 4 spots apiece, with only the order within that grouping variable; same thing with Portugal, Italy and France for the next group of 3-CL-spot nations. But lower down the list, Austria has something to look forward to: they currently trail Denmark by less than half a point for 15th place on the list. Austria's "oldest of the 5" figure is a virtually-worthless 2.25, which will come off the books this summer when the new CL qualification campaign starts. So it looks like they will pass Denmark and grab a second CL spot per year (although they'll have to wait for all of next year, plus another full year afterwards, to get it).

As always, feel free to point out errors in calculations or to weigh in with further info, and check out the poll below. Thanks for reading.

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UPDATE - Just to clarify, when we say that the old number "comes off the books" this summer, that is AFTER it is used to calculate fiscal-year-end Coefficient Totals. Any final calculations made this summer, and used to subsequently assign EL and CL spots, will include the 08-09 number. Immediately afterwards, it will be dropped and replaced with 2013-2014 numbers (as the Cl first qualifying rounds take place). But that matters for little - other than temporary bragging rights - until the end of the following year. In that sense, a league's attempt to "earn" an additional CL spot can be delayed by practically 2 years: if Austria quickly hops over Denmark this coming August, then holds on for the rest of the upcoming UEFA season, it will be summer of 2014 by the time they are crowned as 15-best in an official UEFA year-end ranking, and the spring of 2015 before the extra CL spot accrues to their domestic league. Sorry if I was unclear earlier.

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