Even the best teams Tottenham Hotspur can expect to face in the Europa Conference League are mostly rated at the level of relegated Fulham and newly promoted Norwich, or below, according to a new analysis.
Of the 138 teams already qualified for the new Conference League, Tottenham are currently ranked top using a high-tech assessment of European leagues and team performance stretching back 10 years, with only the Serie A Italians, Roma and German club, Union Berlin, close rivals.
The rest are ranked as equivalent to, or below, the Cottagers and the Canaries.
Tottenham Hotspur sealed their spot in the competition with a 4-2 final-day win at Leicester
The newly-formed Europa Conference League is set to commence in the 2021-22 campaign
Scottish counterparts, Hibernian and Aberdeen are both rated as solid Conference League competitors on a level with a clutch of Czech, Romania and Serbian clubs.
The analysis, created by Ai Abacus, considers underperforming Spurs as Champions League material, even though they only scrambled into this tournament by seizing seventh spot on the final day of the Premier League season with a 4-2 comeback win at Leicester City.
The Londoners can expect the competition to stiffen a little in the months ahead, with 46 losers from Champions League qualifying rounds and various stages of the Europa League dropping down into the Conference, but even so, they will remain among the favourites once bookmakers post the odds and the analysis is unlikely to change significantly.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin shows off the brand new European trophy
‘Spurs and Roma are the only teams roughly around a Champions League level,’ said Ai Abacus analyst Andy Forrester. ‘Union Berlin, Rennes, Basel, Feyenoord, and maybe PAOK are around the Europa League level in terms of quality.
‘If you’re looking for an English equivalent, you can equate those teams to the same level as a Fulham or a Norwich.’
The analysis compares the performance of English clubs against European rivals and then using artificial intelligence it crunches down data within each league, including goals scored, chancres created and goals conceded, and the player ratings in individual teams across the continent to give clubs an overall, standardised rating.
The analysis by Ai Abacus is based on obtaining a standard comparison of team performance. Spurs are currently the highest rated team; Norwich and Fulham are shown in red
|Round||First Leg||Second Leg|
|Round 1||July 8||July 15|
|Round 2||July 22||July 29|
|Round 3||August 5||August 12|
|Play-off round||August 19||August 26|
But not all the teams in the new competition can be analysed.
‘There are also teams in the Europa Conference League from other countries including Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan,’ added Forrester. ‘There is no data available for these leagues but it is likely the level will lower.
‘There will be teams dropping down from the Europa League playoffs and third placed teams from the group stage, too. These teams could raise the level of quality of the competition at the knockout stage and provide some more challenging games for Spurs.
‘We might expect some squad rotation from Spurs, particularly in the early stage of the competition.’
Fulham’s Ivan Cavaleiro scored in his side’s 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Norwich had a decent record against Spurs the season before last, including a FA Cup win
While Spurs maybe expected to beat most of the teams they encounter in the competition, there are obviously no guarantees. Last season, Spurs drew with Fulham 1-1 at home and won a tight game 1-0 away.
The Europa Conference League have three qualifying rounds before a final two-legged play-off round.
Tottenham will go straight into the play-off round, which will be played on August 19 and 26, just five days after the 2021-22 Premier League season begins on August 14.
There will be eight groups of four, with teams earning a place via three distinct paths:
The winners of each group will automatically go through to the round of 16.
In the meantime, there will be a knockout play-off round, contested by the eight group runners-up, as well as the eight teams who finish third in their Europa League groups.
From then, the tournament will follow a standard two-legged knockout format, until the one-off final on May 25.
Their recent record against Norwich isn’t great either. While the Canaries operated in the Championship last term, the season before they knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup fifth round on penalties, held Spurs to a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road and were unfortunate to go down 2-1 in north London.
In addition, Spurs’ relatively serene progress in the Europa League last time around came to a shuddering halt in Croatia, when Dinamo Zagreb were allowed to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg and go through 3-2 on aggregate.
If Tottenham reach the final in this competition, they will have played 15 matches, or 17 if they finish second in their group. The final is due to be played in Tirana, the capital of Albania, on May 25 at a stadium with a capacity of just 21,690.
The purpose of the Europa Conference League is to give more countries and clubs access to European football. And in that it will succeed, increasing the number of federations participating, so that at least one team from each of the 55 associations that make up UEFA will be represented next season.
And regardless of the standard of the opposition, there may be some tough trips for Spurs next season simply in terms of travel, as well as interesting experiences along the way.
Among the clubs entering the tournament at the second qualifying round are BATE Borisov, whose name is an acronym of Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics, from Barysaw, about 30 miles east of Minsk in Belarus.
The first final of the Europa Conference League will be played at the National Arena in Albania
Celtic knocked Shakhter Karagandy out of the Champions League in a qualifying round in 2013
Currently, European airlines have been urged to avoid Belarusian airspace after a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by the Belarus military and journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, was arrested in Minsk, with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, 23.
Teams who lose in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League will filter down to the Europa Conference League.
Second qualifying round: 20 losers from Champions League qualifying enter
Play-off round: 8 losers from Europa League third-qualifying round enter
Group stage: 10 losers from Europa League playoff round enter
Knockout stage: 8 third-placed teams from Europa League groups enter
Another potential opponent is the Kazakhstan Premier League outfit, Shakhter Karagandy, who gained notoriety when animal rights activists complained to UEFA about the club’s tradition of slaughtering animals on the pitch before big games.
The club killed a sheep in the corner of the pitch during a training session the day before they played Celtic in a Champions League qualifying round in 2013.
The first leg, played in Karaganda, 200 miles south east of the capital, was won by the Kazakhs 2-0, only for them to be defeated 3-0 in Glasgow in the second leg and eliminated.
The first qualifying round of the Europa Conference League will be drawn on June 15.
Tottenham will avoid the three qualifying rounds and join the competition in the two-legged play-off round in August, along with Union Berlin, AS Roma, Stade Rennes and eight losers from the Europa League third qualifying round.
If they come through that test, Spurs will be into the group stage, when 10 losers from the Europa League play-off round will join.
Next is the knock out stage when eight third-placed teams from Europa League groups also enter.
Should Tottenham win the Europa Conference League, they will earn a spot in the group stages of the following season’s Europa League, provided they have not already qualified for the Champions League.
The Astana Arena in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where a sheep was sacrificed before the game
|Match day||Match date|
|Match 1||September 16|
|Match 2||September 30|
|Match 3||October 21|
|Match 4||November 4|
|Match 5||November 25|
|Match 6||December 9|
|Round||First Leg||Second Leg|
|Knockout play-offs||February 17||February 24|
|Round of 16||March 10||March 17|
|Quarter-finals||April 7||April 14|
|Semi-finals||April 28||May 5|