With Paris Saint-Germain returning to UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday in the round of 16 at home to Real Sociedad and Lille OSC also through to the same stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League, France has at least two representatives in the latter stages. However, the story in the UEFA Europa League is different with RC Lens dropping out of the Champions League and Olympique de Marseille only finishing second in their group after falling out of the UCL in the qualifying rounds.
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On top of OM, Stade Rennais and Toulouse also finished second which means that Ligue 1 has four clubs in the Europa League knockout round playoffs and arguably the greatest interest in the outcome of these two-legged ties than any other top European league. Having OM, Rennes and TFC advance from their groups as well as Lens — salvaging third place in a tricky group which saw them deprive serial winners Sevilla of a place in their continental competition of choice — is a positive for Le Championnat after years of underwhelming performances in Europe.
UEL knockout round playoffs
Watch all the Europa League action live on Paramount+
Thursday, Feb. 15
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Marseille, 12:45 p.m.
Milan vs. Rennes, 3 p.m.
Lens vs. Freiburg, 3 p.m.
Benfica vs. Toulouse, 3 p.m.
In fact, the situation had gotten so bad that the Netherlands started this season ahead of France as the fifth of the top five leagues and it has required a combination of improved French performances and a difficult campaign for Dutch sides for Ligue 1 to have retaken the lead over the Eredivisie. That positivity could be short-lived, though, if France’s four Europa League representatives do not make it past these playoffs with difficult tasks ahead of the quartet — especially Rennes in Milan and Toulouse in Lisbon.
Even Marseille face a bit of an uphill task against a declining Shakhtar side given OM’s recent struggles and the Ukrainians saw off Rennes at this same stage last year in what was a dire knockout playoff round showing for Ligue 1 as FC Nantes and AS Monaco were also sent packing. Realistically, French soccer must be targeting two of four teams advancing in the hope that a third can spring a surprise and squeeze through to boost the country’s coefficient and add to Le Championnat’s chances of bringing home some overdue continental silverware.
Overall European coefficient
- 1: England — 100.553 points (13.625 points from 6/8 teams in 2023-24)
- 2: Spain — 86.114 points (12.687 points from 6/8 teams in 2023-24)
- 3: Italy — 83.284 points (14.000 points from 7/7 teams in 2023-24)
- 4: Germany — 80.909 points (13.642 points from 6/7 teams in 2023-24)
- 5: France — 62.164 points (11.583 points from 6/6 teams in 2023-24)
- 6: Netherlands — 59.900 points (8.600 points from 3/5 teams in 2023-24)
Marseille, of course, are France’s most successful European side in terms of trophies won given their 1993 Champions League win but PSG are Ligue 1’s perennial hope for UCL success these days despite only having a now-defunct 1996 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup to their name — for now at least. What matters most in the heated coefficient battle for not only top-five status but also additional UCL berths via the league is the general strength of results across the board and more pointedly outside of Les Parisiens which simply have not been good enough for many years now.
Thankfully, this season suggests that things are changing and Ligue 1 using a private equity bailout package to incentivize clubs which perform well in Europe appears to be having the desired effect so far this edition with six clubs alive which is extremely encouraging. So tantalizing is the prospect of at least four clubs featuring in the round of 16 proper across UEFA’s various competitions that the impact of another poor set of Europa League knockout round playoff results on Ligue 1 could be crushing.
Extra UCL place ranking
- 1: Italy — 14.000 points (7/7 teams)
- 2: Germany — 13.642 points (6/7 teams)
- 3: England — 13.625 points (6/8 teams)
- 4: Spain — 12.867 points (6/8 teams)
- 5: Czech Republic — 12.000 points (3/4 teams)
- 6: Belgium — 11.600 points (3/5 teams)
- 7: France — 11.583 points (6/6 teams)
- 8: Turkiye — 10.500 points (2/4 teams)
- 9: Netherlands — 8.600 points (3/5 teams)
Rennes’ recent revival under Julien Stephan suggests that they will be tougher opponents for Milan than expected at the time of the draw while Lens showed their quality in beating Arsenal 2-1 at home in the UCL group stage and Toulouse also beat Liverpool 3-2 in their UEL group. That is why these next two games in the Europa League could have massive implications not just for Lens, OM, Rennes and Toulouse but for also Ligue 1 and its current recovering status as one of Europe’s top five domestic leagues with Czech Republic and Belgium still out-performing the French in terms of the race for an extra Champions League spot.
The financial impact of having an extra team in consecutive editions of the UCL once the new reforms come in from next season could be huge for French soccer and aid it in cementing its traditional place among the top five continental leagues despite years of uncertainty. Its ability to do so, though, will depend substantially on the results of these Europa League knockout round playoff results which is why France cannot really afford to lose more than a maximum of three clubs over these next two rounds of UEL games.