There might still be Scottish interest in this season’s European competitions, but already eyes are turning to next term.
With just six games left of the Premiership campaign, some clubs will be looking to what awaits, not least because there is an extra place up for grabs.
But what is the situation for the five clubs that Scotland will put forward? Might there an automatic Champions League group place? And is it true that a non-Old Firm club will be assured of European football until December?
Scotland gets two Champions League places
More than once in the aftermath of Rangers’ title triumph, it has been suggested they could be in line for an automatic Champions League group stage spot.
Sadly, that’s not the case. Not yet, anyway. That prize may well lie in wait for next season’s Premiership title winners, but that will only become clear later in the year.
But back to the here and now. As it stands, Steven Gerrard’s side would have to negotiate two qualifying rounds to reach the group stage in the autumn. In the first, they would probably be seeded for a tie against the likes of Ludogorets, Malmo, or Legia Warsaw. Not bad.
Win that, and teams of the calibre of Red Bull Salzburg, Olympiakos and Slavia Prague might stand in their way. More difficult, perhaps, but not daunting.
Rangers will be joined in the competition next term by Celtic. But maybe not for long.
Their Old Firm rivals face a fearsome task – and three rounds – to reach the group stage, given they will be in the non-champions section without a diddy team in sight and only two group places up for grabs.
Although a seeding in the second qualifying stage is almost certain, the likes of Rapid Vienna and Galatasaray would offer an stiff initial test.
Get through that, and a Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, CSKA Moscow or Braga await. And even if one of those is vanquished, another of those would await in the play-off round.
But there’s now only one Europa spot
The good news is that both Rangers and Celtic would drop directly into the Europa League group stage if they get through their first ties.
And the Old Firm’s chances of joining another Scottish team in those groups are both more and less likely than in recent seasons, as bizarre as that sounds.
Less because there is now only one place in the competition for Scotland, but greater because that team would only have to navigate one qualifying round.
This season’s Scottish Cup winners would claim that spot – unless either Rangers or Celtic lift the trophy. In that case, it would go to whichever team finishes third in the Premiership. Hibernian and Aberdeen, come on down…
Regardless of who it might be, they will be unseeded in the play-off round and could face an FC Copenhagen, Cluj, Genk or Alkmaar. Exceedingly tough, but not a European heavyweight.
And, in fact, even if they suffer a couple of hidings, their continental campaign is still guaranteed to run until December, thanks to the new Europa Conference League…
Sorry, what’s the Europa Conference League?
Uefa’s new third competition, to be played on Thursday evenings alongside the Europa League.
A perception has grown that it is a tournament for the dross of the continent. The Irn-Bru Cup of European football.
But there are some serious teams likely to be among the entrants, including the sixth or seventh representatives from England, Spain, Germany and Italy. So, right now, that could be Liverpool, Villarreal, Bayer Leverkusen or Roma. Tasty.
And whoever wins the Scottish Cup – or finishes third in the Premiership should the former be one of the Old Firm – will be in the group stage alongside those feted sides. That means six games and a significant wedge of cash, even if they embarrass themselves.
The news is not so good for Scotland’s two other representatives in the competition – whoever finishes fourth in the Premiership, and either the third or fifth-placed team, depending on the Scottish Cup winners.
They would have three qualifying rounds before the group stages and may well find themselves unseeded for the second and third of those, and facing teams who would be capable of administering a thrashing or two.
So their European adventures could be over before the Premiership season starts. Much like any other season, in fact.