West Ham, Everton or Burnley now headed for Europa League (No, really)

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West Ham United is on the verge of headed for the UEFA Europa League despite its late season table drop-off.

That’s because England has been gifted an extra slot in the competition for next season due to its status as the second-most gentlemanly league in world, according to UEFA’s Fair Play rules.

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Fair Play is separate from Financial Fair Play, and has to do with on-field discipline during the Premier League season.

Liverpool leads the way on the Fair Play table, with West Ham, Everton, Man City and Burnley coming in next. Both the Reds and Citizens are headed for Europe already, opening the slot to one of the other three clubs.

The Hammers are in 9th on the Premier League table, while Everton is in 11th. Burnley is in last place and looks destined for the Championship. Still, either the Clarets or Toffees would head to Europe should West Ham go card-crazy over the next few weeks.

The bonus slot enters the competition at the first qualifying round. English teams usually enter later, at the playoff round, group stage or Round of 32. From the Guardian:

Asked before the announcement about the Europa League, the West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said: “There’s no doubt in my mind you have to enjoy the moments in Europe, it’s a fantastic experience for everybody.”

West Ham have a current fair play score of 281.25 – calculated by taking into account red and yellow cards as well as other criteria such as respect towards opponents, officials and the behaviour of their own staff – while Everton are in third place with 278.25.

With West Ham currently in ninth place in the Premier League and Everton 11th, neither can qualify automatically for the Europa League, even though the seventh-placed team will do, should Aston Villa triumph in the FA Cup final against Arsenal.

There’s some consternation at entering the Europa League for clubs in England, but with the competition winner getting an automatic berth to the following season’s UEFA Champions League, it’s no longer just an opportunity for fans to travel. In the past five tourneys, Stoke City and Swansea City have gone to the Round of 32, while Fulham lost the 2010 final to Atletico Madrid.