England could have as many as five clubs in this year’s Champions League. However, it is quite conceivable that the Premier League’s fourth place finisher won’t have a place among them. For many Tottenham fans, the 2012 season is still an open wound. Despite Hotspur being a superior team, Chelsea winning the Champions League knocked them out of contention for Europe’s elite competition the following season.

Now, history may be poised to repeat itself, as one of the Big Six may suffer the same fate. Although unlikely, Manchester United may find themselves on the outside looking in. UEFA rules grant Champions League spots to the four countries who have the best overall performance over the past four years. Spain is a clear lock for one of those spots, specifically the top spot. Their five consecutive Champions League victories in recent years, and four of the past five Europa League crowns places them firmly in the driver’s seat. However, England is right at Spain’s heels, and has a lock on the next four spots, for at least the next few seasons, anyway.

The Europa League, and the Champions League winners automatically earn a spot in the next year’s competition, but the maximum number of places which any country can hold in the Champions League is five. Manchester City and Liverpool had been going toe to toe for the title. The two teams are a safe bet to finish in first place and second place, respectively. Back in 2012, Tottenham were in fourth place. But when Chelsea pulled out a victory over Bayern Munich, Tottenham was forced into the Europa League. Chelsea then took Tottenham’s place in the Champions League.

The rule change allows for a fifth team to qualify for the competition, but only if the Champions League and Europa League winners do not meet the criteria through their own particular championships. This could be the case this season with Wolves or Manchester United, who could win Europa League, yet still complete the season outside of the top four.

Imagine this scenario: at the end of the season, Liverpool is in first place, Manchester City is in second, Chelsea is in third, and Leicester round out the top four, and Manchester United wins the Europa League. If this situation played out in just this way, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester would be joined by Manchester United.

The good news is, for Manchester United, anyway, is that this scenario is fairly unlikely. The odds might be good that they will find themselves in a spot in the Champions League. As fans will undoubtedly remember, the club missed out on the Champions League Tournament last season. Along with the shot to their pride, the lost revenue due to missing the competition has seen the team’s debt rise to over 400 million. This is an increase of 73.6 million over the previous year. These championships are big business, and failing to qualify represents a sorely missed financial opportunity. Especially for a team which is essentially expected to take part in it every year.

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