Monday, July 10, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Second-Round Preview

First-Round Review


Well, that was a disaster. I was embarrassed by it, until I realized that I am not really Scottish, so I am not tainted by association.

Let's start with St. Johnstone. They should have been able to beat the Lithuanian runners-up at home, but they lost 2-1. When FK Trakai went down to 10 men in Lithuania, St. Johnstone should have been able to get two goals to win the tie. But they didn't. They should have been able to get one goal, to get 0.25 for the coefficient before exiting. But they didn't. They should have been able to prevent the shorthanded goal to salvage the minimum 0.125. But they didn't. And their manager probably shouldn't have described the Lithuanians as "technically better" after the first leg. But he did.

So, on to Rangers. I was excited when before the match, Rangers' manager explicitly mentioned the importance of doing well in order to raise up Scotland's UEFA coefficient. And then they beat Luxembourg's fourth-best team 1-0 at home. You'd think they could do better, but still, 0.25 for the coefficient and all that. Then they went to Luxembourg and not only lost, but lost 2-0, which knocked them out.

The optimistic (less pessimistic) way to look at this would be to say that Rangers, while fielding a team good enough to get third place, knew that wouldn't be good enough, so they had to blow up the roster as if they had just been promoted. The new group of players didn't have time to gel and got upset by a more cohesive squad.

The pessimistic (more pessimistic) way to look at this is that a perfectly-good third-place squad got blown up for no good reason. While that squad certainly would have been good enough to beat the fourth-best side in Luxembourg, this group of overpaid imports is not going to cut it.

Time will tell, but not in the Europa League, because that door is closed for another year.

Second-Round Preview

That leaves Aberdeen and Celtic.

Aberdeen opens things up on Thursday against Bosnia-Herzegovina's Siroki Brijeg. Aberdeen's Elo is now 1381, and Siroki Brijeg's is now 1236. Siroki Brijeg's went up for advancing from the first round, and Aberdeen's tumbled based on the St. Johnstone and Rangers results pulling down everybody in Scotland. clubelo.com lists Aberdeen as 72.7% favorites to advance. So let's say that a win and a draw, worth 0.375 for the coefficient is the target.

Celtic starts on Friday against Northern Ireland Champions Linfield. Friday is an unusual date for a Champions League match -- most will be played on Tuesday (hence why I'm rushing to get this post up). But the match was rescheduled to avoid "marching season" in Northern Ireland, which has its own set of sectarian tensions that will cause the police to have their hands full.

Speaking of sectarian tensions, Linfield is a traditionally Protestant club, and Celtic is traditionally Catholic. So while it seemed like Linfield might get a big payday from Celtic fans traveling over to see their club, Celtic told their fans to stay away. This is the sort of thing that fascinates me about European soccer that you don't get by following American sports.

Anyway, clubelo.com puts Celtic as 98.1% favorites to advance. Anything less than the full 0.5 will be an embarrassment. Though Scottish clubs are getting used to embarrassment, I think there will be enough continuity to manhandle Linfield.

Where We Stand


I said that 27th place would be the "extreme negative scenario".  Here were are in 27th. A good showing by Norway could drop Scotland down to 28th, even if the Scottish teams are perfect in this round. At this point, we have to hope that both Celtic and Aberdeen stay alive into the group stage and climb back up as other countries inevitably have some teams knocked out.

If everything breaks Scotland's way, they could be in 23rd at the end of the second round, but 26th with both clubs alive is the best realistic scenario.

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