Thursday Oct 22, 2020  
  17/07/2015: The Path to the Champions League
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We are all well aware as faithful Laziali that our beloved squad finished in 3rd place in the 2014-15 Serie A campionato. This does not mean that Lazio are granted direct access into the group stage of the of the Champions League competition, this right is reserved for Scudetto champions Juventus and Roma, who were runners up. The third place team in the Italian championship, as determined by UEFA, is granted access to the final playoff round that will determine entrance into the group stage. It was three years ago, effective the 2012-2013 league campaign in Europe, when Serie A lost their fourth Champions League spot to the Bundesliga of Germany via UEFA's coefficients. Italian soccer at the end of the 2014-2015 season has gained some ground but the Serie A still sits in 4th place. This past season's success is in large part thanks to Juventus storming to the Champions League final against Barcelona, the gap to England in 3rd is now approximately nine points according to the UEFA domestic league competition rankings.

There are several other playoff rounds before the point in which Lazio find themselves, in fact, there are three qualifying rounds before the final playoff round that Lazio are entered in. This final playoff tie will be a home and away showdown and the goal aggregate winner will be entered into the Champions League group stage, the loser will enter the UEFA Europa League competition. This home and away tie playoff round first leg for Lazio will take place on August 18th or 19th, with the second leg coming one week later on either August 25th or 26th. The draw date by UEFA for this home and away Champions League playoff show down will take place on August 7th, in Nyon, France; we will all be eagerly awaiting to see who the Biancocelesti will be drawn against.

So what European football teams can Lazio potentially be drawn against? There are several possibilities but it does appear that Lazio will have no easy path to the group stage and will likely need to topple over a major European side to enter the Champions League. What Lazio has working against them is their five-year UEFA coefficient ranking, which is currently 40th. UEFA will pool the highest coefficient ranking teams together in one pot and draw them against the lower coefficient ranked teams in another pot; this is done in essence to ensure the highest ranked and strongest club teams enter the Champions League and create as equal a balance of power as possible in the group stage. Some potential opponents for Lazio include: Manchester United, ranked 10th by UEFA, Valencia who are ranked 12th, Bayer Leverkusen ranked 16th, Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukraine who are ranked 18th, or even Ajax ranked 26th. Due to the strength of the UEFA coefficient rankings of these previously mentioned club teams it is unlikely that Lazio will be seeded in pot one for the draw. Lazio will likely be seeded in pot two with the likes of Monaco, Sporting Lisbon, Fenerbache, Young Boys, Rapid Vienna, Sparta Prague, Brugge and Panathinaikos.

As you can clearly see based on these potential opponents, entrance to the group stage of the Champions League is not a given for Lazio, in fact, there is still quite a bit of work to do. Lazio had a wonderful 2014-2015 season, the squad will need to remain intact and have some critical additions added for this to be duplicated, especially playing three times in seven days, regardless of the European competition Lazio qualify for. Pioli will need to have his troops remain grounded, playing tactically sound and instill the belief that Champions League football is possible. As stated in a previous article regarding financial compensation for European club teams in the Europa League and the Champions League by UEFA, the Champions League financial distribution to clubs is substantially higher. This home and away tie that Lazio are about to embark on in an effort to make the group stage of the Champions League could mean the difference between a €10M reward from UEFA, if they do not win and are moved down to the Europa League, and an approximate €40M pay out from UEFA, even if Lazio make the Champions League and do not proceed from their group. This is quite clearly the most important fixture that Lazio have played in since the Coppa Italia final on May 26th, 2013, there is a lot at stake.

Forza Lazio!
Author: Michael Petricca
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