An automatic Champions League place is very much in the viewfinder after Rangers won at Borussia Dortmund but the coefficient challenge is still on.
Gio van Bronckhorst’s side took a stunning victory at the Westfalenstadion and, despite Celtic’s loss to Bodo/Glimt, pushed the Premiership up to ninth in the UEFA ranking.
That means if the season were to end today then the 2022-23 title winners would be guaranteed a place in the Champions League group phase, but there’s still work to do for both teams with Serbia surging strongly.
Scotland started the season ranked 11th in the UEFA coefficient, which was already a big lift for the Scottish Premiership.
This season’s title winners have an excellent chance of going into the Champions League group stage, with that place only denied if the winners of this season’s tournament haven’t missed out on a place via their domestic league.
Getting into the top 10 is the real prize though, as that offers an automatic place regardless.
There are 24 direct qualification places for the Champions League proper: the league winners from the top 10 countries by coefficient, the runners-up from the nations ranked one to six, and the third and fourth teams from Europe’s top four leagues.
A further two places are reserved for the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League, unless they’ve already qualified in which case the place goes to the champions from the 11th ranked nation for the former, and the third place from the fifth ranked for the latter.
A win adds two points to the national coefficient, with one available for a draw, but that is divided by the number of teams that entered UEFA competition at the start of the season.
Scotland’s improved ranking has, ironically, made collecting points harder than in recent seasons as we now have five teams rather than four.
With Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Hibs already out the burden falls on Rangers and Celtic to keep collecting points.
That win in Germany saw the Ibrox club add 0.4 to the coefficient which was enough to leapfrog Russia and go into ninth place after Zenit St Petersburg lost 3-2 at home to Real Betis.
However, that coveted top 10 place is far from locked in with Serbia still going strong in 11th place.
Partizan Belgrade won away at Sparta Prague which, because the nation entered only four teams, means the gap closed.
Red Star are already in the Europa League last 16 and will be seeded, and with a bonus point for reaching the quarter-finals they’d add would add 1.25 to the Serbian coefficient if they were to win both legs of their tie.
With the gap at 2.125 and Partizan still in the Conference League, Rangers and Celtic still need to pick up results to lock down that top 10 place – especially as each win for Serbia is worth more.
While Russia are falling in the rankings, Spartak Moscow are in the Europa League last 16 and seeded and the gap between the two nations is just 0.218 – in other words if both our clubs lose in the second leg and Zenit beat Betis then the Premiership drops to 10th again.
Even if the Russians were to get a draw in Spain, defeats for both Scottish sides would put the margin at a razor thin 0.018 with Spartak still competing and, at most, Rangers still in the coefficient hunt.
You’re never going to see the Glasgow rivals cheering for each other, but wins for both next week would go a long way to securing that crucial Champions League place.
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