Monday, December 17, 2018

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: 2018/9 Knockout-Round Preview

Celtic made it through to the knockout round! Rangers almost did, and picked up a bunch of points in the process.

The "neighborhood" of nations within 2 points of Scotland has shrunk, but 20th place is not settled yet.

Playoff-Round Review

Rangers put together a win and three draws -- not quite enough to advance, but enough to pick up 1.125 for the coefficient. Rangers bowed out having been worth 2.75 for the coefficient; this year shows what good shape Scotland is in when more than just Celtic contributes.

Celtic contributed three wins -- barely enough to advance, and good for 1.25 for the coefficient. Overall, they have brought 2.875 to the coefficent this year, slightly better than their Old Firm rivals.

I said that better than 2 points total from the group stage and having a team make it out would be good. With 2.375 points and Celtic through, Scotland had a good year.

Group-Stage Preview

Celtic got a tough draw. I'm going to use the Fivethirtyeight ratings to preview things. Valencia is the fifth-best rated of the thirty-two teams remaining. As a second place finisher, Celtic was almost certain to have a tough draw, but this is one of the toughest.

Fivethirtyeight gives Celtic a 24% chance of advancing. The average expectation is for them to pick up 0.5 more for the coefficient; that would represent salvaging one draw.

So a good round would be picking up a full point, even if they don't advance, and a bad round would be two losses (which would not be shocking, given the quality of the opposition).

Where We Are

There was an article in the Scottish newspaper The Herald that I think confused the issue, with statements like, "So in terms of significant improvement, Scottish football needs teams to excel in Europe’s top club competition. Obviously, this isn’t the case this the season but improvements can still be made that will bring tangible rewards in the next couple of seasons."

Here's what that analysis missed. Scotland no longer needs to improve; it merely needs to maintain this year's level of quality. The 6.750 points picked up so far this year, maintained for five years, would put its coefficient at 33.75. Over the past few years, that would have been good enough for 11th-13th. Recall that getting to 15th or 17th is the goal.

For this year's coefficient, a single draw would push them past Serbia into 19th. Although they would need to get to 17th to guarantee skipping early rounds, this year because of various details 19th was good enough, so it might be good enough in 2020/21 (when these ratings take effect).

Next year, they will start in 20th (the terrible 2013/4 qualifying cycle still hits them for one more year). They will have one chance to make the hard climb to 15th before they end up in Europa League 2.

(I read the announcement for this new league. I am mostly going to ignore its effects for now, since it seems mostly to be a split of the Europa League for our purposes. It may have a mild positive effect of exposing Scottish teams to weaker competition, and a mild negative effect of hurting revenues and recruitment by putting them in the third-tier competition.)

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