West Ham United could end up meeting Scottish champions Rangers and/or feeder club Slavia Prague in the Europa League this season.
A couple of weeks ago, days after beating Celtic 6-2 in a pre-season friendly, it became clear West Ham had the chance to face the Hoops again in Europe.
That’s after the Scottish giants failed to qualify for the Champions League once again after a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Danish side Midtjylland – Winston Reid’s former club.
Celtic look set for one final hurdle to join West Ham in Europa League group stages
Celtic are well in command of their Europa League third qualifying round game against Czech side Jablonec, leading 4-2 on aggregate going into this week’s second leg.
If Celtic win their third qualifying round tie over two legs they will then be entered into the draw for a final play-off qualifier for the right to join West Ham in the group stage proper.
West Ham are one of 12 teams to have automatically qualified for the group stages of the revamped Europa League.
And now Celtic’s bitter rivals Rangers and West Ham’s Czech feeder club Slavia Prague – from whom the Hammers signed Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal and could soon return for Abdallah Sima – could join them too after both were knocked out of Champions League qualifying.
Now Rangers and Hammers feeder club Slavia could join them after crashing out of Champions League qualifying
Rangers were beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Malmo while Slavia were dumped out by Hungarian side Ferencvaros.
Rangers and Slavia must first play in the final qualifying round to cement their places.
The draw will feature 20 teams and the matches and is scheduled for the week leading up to the official Europa League group stage draw on August 27th.
It will be an exciting time for West Ham fans with the Europa League packed full of quality and potentially huge matches following its revamp.
Imagine West Ham playing in Europe against the likes of Celtic or Rangers or facing Slavia given the relationship between the clubs.
Some still look down on the Europa League as a hindrance to a club’s domestic hopes.
Revamped Europa League is exciting and packed full of quality
The long format with 48 teams in the group stages has in the past made for a gruelling campaign.
Especially when some – like West Ham in previous seasons – have had to start the season early to take part in qualifying.
The new and improved Europa League will see the group stage significantly reduced from 48 to 32 teams. And the number of teams participating in qualifying is also reduced significantly.
The first round of the knockout phase also now involves only the group stage runners-up and the Champions League third-placed teams, with the group winners directly advancing to the round of 16.
And of course the competition carries the ultimate incentive, qualification for the following season’s Champions League.
West Ham are one of 12 to have qualified for the group stages so far. The other joining West Ham in the competition group stages are Braga, Frankfurt, Lazio, Leicester, Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moskva, Lyon, Marseille, Napoli, ex Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis, and Real Sociedad.
Of the 12 teams qualified so far, West Ham have the third lowest (9th) coefficient with 20.113 – but will likely therefore be in the top 10 seeded teams overall come the draw.