Saturday, August 05, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Playoff-Round Preview

Why is it the playoff round and not the fourth round? Who can say?

Third-Round Review


Celtic made it through, but not without making it interesting. Having your top two strikers out makes it hard to generate goals. It is even harder if, as Brendan Rogers says, there's not enough challenge in the Scottish league to justify recruiting a third top striker. So Celtic settled for a goalless draw at home. before pulling out a 1-0 win on the road. 0.375 for the coefficient.

It was always going to be tough for Aberdeen to make it through, but a 2-1 victory at home gave hope. A 2-0 loss on the road dashed those hopes, but they bow out with 0.25 for the coefficient in this round and 0.625 overall. This is their fourth third-round exit in a row, and it only generated fewer points because this was the first time they entered in the second round.

Playoff-Round Preview


Well, it's down to Celtic, who drew Astana. They squeaked by Astana in the third-round last year, so they should be favored, but not by much. Indeed, Clubelo gives Celtic a 74.7% chance of advancing.

Celtic lucked out, to a certain extent. Of the 20 teams in the playoff round, Celtic has the #14 Elo. Astana is #19. (Maribor, despite being 20th, is seeded, so Celtic could not have faced them.)

I'm not sure whether it's better for the coefficient in the short term to end up in the Champions League, with the bonus points but a really rough group stage ahead, or the Europa League, where the group games are much more winnable. But Celtic really needs the TV money to compete in future years, so Scotland fans should be rooting for victory. Let's say getting through with at least 0.375 for the coefficient will be positive, and dropping to the Europa League will be negative.

Where We Stand


Despite Aberdeen's exit, things aren't looking too shabby. We have 1.750 for the coefficient so far. Last year, we had 2.375 at this point. Having 0.625 less is not ideal, but Celtic ended up garnering 2.0 more from this point forward. If they do that again, Scotland would end up at 3.750 for the year, which would give it its best back-to-back years in a decade.

And, since this is the point to dream, how could Celtic do better? Well, they could sweep the playoff round, instead of splitting last year. And they could luck into a weak Champions League group instead of an incredibly strong one, and do better than three draws.

Consider last year's FC Copenhagen side. They got a win and a draw in the playoff, before being drawn into a group with Leicester City, Brugge and FC Porto, where they went 2-1-3, good enough for third place. That dropped them into the Europa League knockout phase, where they advanced over Ludogorets Razgrad before losing to Ajax (while still notching a win). From the playoff forward, they notched 3.375 for Denmark. So that's the maximum realistic upside, I think.

Another thing playing in Scotland's favor is looking at their coefficient neighborhood, which now includes leagues 22-29. Only Serbia has two entrants left, and they are a full 2 points behind Scotland. Belarus, Sweden, Bulgaria, Norway and Serbia are all out of the Champions League, so they won't get the bonus points for hitting the group stage -- and they could even miss the Europa League group stage.

So going into the group stage ranked 22nd isn't out of the question -- or 23rd if both Celtic and the Azerbaijani champions do well. A loss, however, would see Celtic passed by Kazakhstan and possibly even Norway.
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