The team finishing fourth in the Premier League could be denied a Champions League slot next term if Manchester City win the continent’s elite club competition and Liverpool land the Europa League trophy.
City have advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League while Liverpool host Borussia Dortmund in a Europa League quarter-final return match on Thursday night, having drawn the first leg 1-1 in Germany.
With the winners of both competitions guaranteed a berth in the Champions League, a number of potential scenarios could unfold.
* If City, currently fourth, win the Champions League and finish outside the top four, they and the top three teams would qualify for the group stage. The team in fourth would also go through to the preliminary round.
* If City win the Champions League and finish in the top four and Liverpool win the Europa League, the top four will all go through to the group stage.
* If City win the Champions League and finish outside the top four and Liverpool, who are currently eighth, win the Europa League, both teams will progress to the group stage along with the top three, meaning the fourth-placed side will miss out.
Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth in 2012 but were bumped down to the Europa League when Chelsea, who had finished sixth, became European champions with a penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich to qualify automatically as holders.
Chelsea’s triumph relegated Spurs to the Europa League as only four teams were allowed to compete.
Despite Spurs’ protests – pointing to the precedent of 2005 when European champions Liverpool were added as a fifth team – organisers UEFA stood firm but amended its rules to allow a maximum of five clubs per country a year later.
Spain had five teams involved in the Champions League this season after Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia finished in the top four in La Liga and were joined by Sevilla who entered as Europa League winners.