Champions League rules leave teams chasing a moving target in the Bundesliga


DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — How many teams qualify for the Champions League from the Bundesliga?

Definitely four. Probably five. Possibly six.

Bayern Munich’s and Borussia Dortmund’s heroics in reaching the Champions League semifinals mean the fight for European qualification in Germany is complex, ever changing and could leave teams relying on their rivals to succeed.

It’s like chasing a moving target for clubs such as Dortmund, Leipzig, Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg. They may not know which competition they’re in until two weeks after the Bundesliga season wraps up on May 18.

There are some potentially strange outcomes, too. Currently seventh ahead of playing Frankfurt on Friday, Augsburg could qualify for the Champions League, the Europa League, the Conference League or no competition at all. Lowly Kaiserslautern could play the Europa League from the third division next season.

The main cause of the uncertainty is the revamped Champions League expanding from 32 to 36 teams next season, when it also introduces a new league round to replace groups. It’s still the biggest stage in European soccer, with prize money roughly four times that of the Europa League.

Two of those extra spots will go to fifth-place teams from leagues whose teams perform best in European competitions this season. Those spots are likely — but not yet certain — to head to Italy and Germany, whose advantage over third-placed England was boosted when Bayern knocked out Arsenal in the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday.

So far, so good. If Frankfurt doesn’t beat Augsburg on Friday, then the top five is set to be some combination of champion Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Dortmund.

However, Dortmund — which hosts Leverkusen on Sunday — could win the Champions League and still finish fifth. In that case, Dortmund would qualify for the Champions League with the spot reserved for the defending champion and Germany would get a sixth place.

Teams fighting for sixth in the Bundesliga may not know for sure what they’ve qualified for until the Champions League final at Wembley on June 1, two weeks after the Bundesliga has finished. That uncertainty won’t help transfer planning. Frankfurt sits sixth but has to hold off the likes of Augsburg, Freiburg, Hoffenheim and even promoted Heidenheim.

The Europa League picture is even more confused. The highest-placed team not in the Champions League will qualify — but may not know it until June.

Leverkusen is going for a domestic double in the German Cup final against second-division Kaiserslautern on May 25. If Leverkusen wins that, another Europa League spot goes to the next highest Bundesliga team — but if Kaiserslautern can pull off the shock of the century and win the cup, it would qualify. No matter that Kaiserslautern is currently at risk of dropping into the third division.

The Conference League? Good luck predicting that. It depends on all of the above.

Besides the title, already secured by Leverkusen last weekend, the other part of the Bundesliga table with some clarity is the relegation fight.

Last-placed Darmstadt will be relegated if it loses to Cologne on Saturday and 16th-placed Mainz avoids defeat to Freiburg on Sunday. Cologne and Mainz are trying to escape danger and drag in teams like 14th-placed Wolfsburg and 15th-placed Bochum, both of which have new coaches struggling to get to grips with their teams.

Union Berlin, which played in the Champions League this season, isn’t yet safe either in 13th and has the daunting task of facing Bayern on Saturday.


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