With both the Champions League and Europa League group draws behind us, I wanted to look back at how we reached this point since the first match between Tre Penne and FC Santa Coloma kicked things off from Kosovo on 25 June.
All 55 UEFA associations have had at least one club compete in European play so far this summer, with many having played their last matches weeks ago. Overall, across both tournaments, 194 clubs have participated in 811 matches, scoring 1,112 goals in the process. In the end, 37 clubs – six in Champions League and 31 in Europa League – will move on to the group stage after two months of play all across Europe.
With the beginning of the group stage just a couple of weeks away – Matchday 1 in Champions League is on 17 September – here’s a look behind the results at how the associations have fared to this point.
In all, 25 of 55 associations have played their last matches in European competition until next year, with an additional 14 down to their final squad.
The only association that failed to garner any points during qualification was San Marino, whose three clubs – Tre Penne, Tre Fiori, and La Fiorita – played seven matches, with none since the Europa League second qualifying round. Association champion Tre Penne started out well enough, losing by one goal in their lone match in Champions League, only to get walloped 10-0 (on aggregate) by Lithuanian champion Sūduva once in Europa League. Overall, San Marino finished with a 0-0-7 record, with only two goals scored and 23 allowed.
Two other clubs failed to win a round over the two tournaments: North Macedonia and Albania. North Macedonian champions Shkendija lost on away goals to Estonian champion Nõmme Kalju in the first qualifying round of Champions League, than lost to F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in Europa League. In all, the four North Macedonian clubs finished 1-2-7, scoring nine goals but surrendering 22. The lone win came in leg one against Nõmme Kalju, and advantage they were unable to carry over to the second leg.
Albania, on the other hand, was able to force two more draws, but still finished 1-4-5 in their ten matches. The lone win came in an all but meaningless leg two match for Teuta, who won 1-0 over Ventspils in the Europa League first qualifying round… after losing leg one 3-0. It was one of only four goals scored for Albania in the tournament, the lowest output for an association with four clubs.
The highest-ranked association shut out from the group stages turned out to be…
Performance Versus Expectations
Each association has now played at least six matches, and we have sorted and ranked the performance of each association using the following criteria:
- UEFA points earned per match (clubs receive 1 point for a win and 0.5 points for a draw during qualifying).
- Total points earned by the association during the qualifying stages.
- Overall goal differential
- Goals per match average
- “Round wins,” which count the number of times that a club has advanced through a round (including the bye received by Sarajevo into the third qualifying round of Europa League.
We then compared the ranking of each association by that criteria and compared it to their UEFA ranking entering the season.
The best performance based on “expectation” has thus far been Armenia, which, despite a -8 goal differential has performed 26 places higher than their 46th ranking in UEFA. The champion of Armenia – Ararat-Armenia – reached the playoff round of Europa League in their debut season in Europe, winning two rounds along the way after losing in the first qualifying round of Champions League to AIK.
Pyunik also contributed to the cause of over-performance, winning two rounds of their own before bowing out in the third qualifying round of Europa League to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Rounding out the victors was Alashkert, who defeated Makedonija GP of North Macedonia in the UEL first qualifying round before losing to FCSB of Romania in the second qualifying round, heading home with a 3-0-1 record. Overall, Armenia finished the qualifying rounds with a 10-2-8 record.
Poor Showing for a Top Association
On the flip side, the association with the worst performance through qualifying is the one that entered the season ranked 6th in UEFA coefficient. Russia had three teams participate in qualification, and will still have four clubs participating in the group stages, so they appear on the surface to be doing everything right thus far. However, they have had a rough go of things during qualifying nonetheless.
Arsenal Tula made their European debut when they entered Europa League in the second qualifying round. They proceeded to lose two matches to Neftçi Baku and return home to await the start of the Russian Premier League season. Krasnodar, their lone entry in Champions League before the group stage, barely advanced on away goals against Porto in the third qualifying round before losing 6-1 (on aggregate) to Olympiacos in the play-off round. They will be playing in the Europa League group stage, but I don’t expect their stay to be long. Russia’s overall record of 3-0-7, with nine goals scored but a -9 goal differential, gives them the 45th-best performance in qualifying by our criteria, not exactly speaking well for the association as a whole.
Best Overall Performance
For this we’ll simply look at the top UEFA point earners for the round as associations. This will hurt some of the associations that have featured only one club thus far. For example, the aforementioned Wolverhampton Wanderers have been stellar for England thus far, undefeated and allowing only four goals over their six matches. Two associations that needed all four clubs to go through qualification stand at the top of the overall standings with 16 points.
Scotland looked dominant early on, winning some early rounds by large margins: Rangers over St Joseph’s 10-0 in Europa League’s first qualifying round. Celtic 7-0 over Nõmme Kalju in the Champions League second qualifying round. Aberdeen over Chikhura Sachkhere in the UEL second qualifying round, including a 5-0 win in leg two. Rangers again, this time 7-3 over Midtjylland in the UEL third qualifying round. They haven’t been perfect by any means – Kilmarnock’s loss to Connah’s Quay Nomads in the first qualifying round of Europa League wasn’t pretty – but they have an overall record of 14-4-4 and lead all associations in scoring with 50 goals through 22 matches. Their +31 goal differential is also top in Europe at the moment, and both Celtic and Rangers will be participating in the Europa League group stage.
Joining Scotland at the top is Netherlands, with the same 22 matches played though with more draws and fewer losses to account for their 16 points. Their play-off round in Europa League was especially impressive: three big wins from PSV Eindhoven (7-0 over Apollon Limassol), Feyenoord (6-0 over Hapoel Be’er Sheva) and AZ (5-2 over Royal Antwerp, including three goals in extra time of leg two to clinch). Combined with Ajax reaching the Champions League group stage for the second consecutive season – they were semi-finalists last year as well – and it has been a good season for the Dutch in Europe thus far, finishing qualifying with a 12-8-2 record and a +30 goal differential.
We’ll continue to track how the individual associations due over through the rest of the European season and how many of the 30 remaining associations will be represented in later rounds of the tournaments. This is the point of the competitions where the top associations tend to separate themselves out, but we did have a semi-finalist in Champions League from the 11th-best association last season in Ajax. Is there another lower tier team that can come through again this season? We’ll be following along to see what ends up happening.
Until next time…