Moving closer to a Chelsea-less Europe

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Just when you thought things were looking up around Stamford Bridge, the weekend’s Premier League results have Chelsea even on points with Newcastle. They’re still five points behind Spurs for the last Champions League spot, and with no fade evident from the Magpies, the Blues have two teams to beat as they strive to retain their top four place.

There is, unfortunately for Chelsea, another battle taking shape, one that could end with the Blues out of Europe entirely. If Newcastle were to nick fifth, Chelsea’s qualification for Europa League would depend on the FA Cup’s outcome.

The Premier League gets three spots in UEFA’s second-tier competition, slots allocated to the League Cup winner (Liverpool, this year), the FA Cup winner, and the league’s fifth place finisher. If the League Cup winner qualifies for Champions League, the next-highest finisher in league gets the Europa spot (obviously, not a concern this year). With the FA Cup, if the winner is already qualified for Europe, the Cup’s runners up are in, provided they haven’t already qualified. If they have, the spot goes to the next place in the table.

Still with me? OK, here’s the scenario: If Newcastle passes Chelsea, the Blues would need to win the FA Cup or lose it to an already Europe-qualified Liverpool, a possible opponent from the draw’s other half. In they lose to any of Bolton or Tottenham (in mid-April’s semifinal) or Everton or Sunderland (facing each other in a quarterfinal replay on Tuesday), they’re out of Europe.

Obviously, a lot has to happen for Chelsea to miss out, but it’s not so far fetched. If they have face Tottneham in the FA Cup semifinals, they could be seen as underdogs (if only slight ones). Even if they make a second trip to Wembley, a loss in the final to Everton or Sunderland would still have them miss out.

In league, Chelsea still face Arsenal, Liverpool, and have an all-important visit from Newcastle. They’re still in three competitions, have an old team approaching the end of the season, and we’re still not quite sure this recent run of form is more than a post-Andre Villas Boas bump. If the team regresses, they’ll be in trouble.

We’ve got roughly a two months to go, but if Chelsea hits another rough patch, they could be out of Europe for the first time since 1996-97.