Is the Premier League in danger of losing a Champions League place?
It's a long time since the Premier League has been able to match La Liga for its performance in European competition. In fact, Spanish clubs have outperformed their English counterparts for five consecutive seasons.
The decline can be traced back to the 2012-13 season, when the Premier League was overtaken by La Liga as the best-performing competition. And last season the slide continued as the Bundesliga moved into second place.
The danger for the Premier League is that if it drops below Serie A into fourth, that would cost the league one of its Champions League places. Only the top-three ranked leagues get four Champions League places.
HOW THE COEFFICIENT SCORE IS CALCULATED
Teams score two coefficient points for a win, and one for a draw. That is then divided by the total number of teams a league has in European competition.
This means each win (in the Champions League or the Europa League) will be worth:
Germany - 0.29 coefficient points (6 teams left, Hertha Berlin eliminated)
England - 0.29 coefficient points (7 teams left, no teams eliminated)
Italy - 0.33 coefficient points (6 teams left, no teams eliminated)
The UEFA coefficient table is calculated on a five-season rolling score. So the current standings are based on results in 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17.
After the first three rounds of European qualifiers, England's lead has been extended slightly to 2.226 points.
Current points table:
Spain - 87.141
Germany - 66.784
England - 62.891
Italy - 60.665
No Serie A club reached the quarterfinals last season, so Liverpool and Manchester City's efforts in reaching the final of the Europa League and semifinals of the Champions League respectively helped to extend the gap.
For the past couple of seasons the gap has always been wide enough for the Premier League to be relatively comfortable in its position. That's not the case this season.
Each season the Premier League has been losing high-scoring seasons from when its teams performed consistently well in Europe, while Serie A has only lost mediocre seasons. That means Serie A is able to claw back some of the deficit every summer.
Take this summer as the example: at the end of last season the Premier League had a lead of 5.842 points. But after the score for 2011-12 was removed from the calculations there was a gain of 3.893 points for Italy.
That means the 2016-17 season began with England just 1.949 points ahead of Italy. That is a gap that is definitely bridgeable, especially when you remember that in 2014-15 Serie A outperformed the Premier League by 5.429 points. Granted, in European football over the last decade that season was an anomaly. but it highlights that it is far from fanciful to think Serie A could move up to third.
Spain are in no danger whatsoever of losing a Champions League place, while it is unlikely that the Bundesliga would perform poorly enough to be overtaken by both the Premier League and Serie A. So effectively it's a two-horse race for third.
What is crucial to remember here is that, bar bonus points for reaching the group stage of the Champions League, there is essentially no difference in the points you score between the two European competitions. So, if either Roma or Manchester City failed to make it through the playoff round of the Champions League that alone would not have huge ramifications for the coefficient. In fact, it could be argued that there is a better chance of winning games in the Europa League, thus picking up a greater number of coefficient points.
West Ham and Sassuolo are in the final qualifying round of the Europa League, and if one of these teams were to fail to make it through to the competition proper then it would have more serious implications. Sassuolo going through and the Hammers being knocked out would give Italy a real chance to claw back points.
WHAT DO ITALIAN CLUBS NEED TO DO?
The Premier League will not lose a Champions League place purely due to its own poor performance. Serie A clubs have to step up and outperform them.
It's in the Europa League that Serie A clubs have scored most of their coefficient points in recent seasons, while the tendency for Premier League clubs to play youth players and rotate their squads in the same competition has been to the detriment of the league's ranking in Europe.
Essentially Italian clubs need to win a combined total of seven games more than English clubs over the course of the rest of the season. When you put it that way, it doesn't sound such a ridiculous prospect. Italian teams have 40 games to play between now and Christmas (should Sassuolo qualify), with English teams 46 (if West Ham qualify), but they would likely need to have most of their teams reach the knockout rounds to have a chance of passing the Premier League.
THE BATTLE FOR THREE PLACES
There is also a much, much closer battle on to keep three Champions League places between France, Russia and Portugal. Only two of these leagues can keep three UCL places, with Russia looking to steal a place off France or Portugal.
If Paris Saint-Germain have a good season that is likely to go a long way to securing France's position, but it still only has a lead of 1.167 over Portugal in the current table.
But the gap between Russia and Portugal is just 0.017 points -- and with a draw worth 0.165 to Portuguese clubs there is barely anything between the two leagues.
Current points table:
France - 44.082
Russia - 42.932
Portugal - 42.915
Each win (in the Champions League or the Europa League) will be worth:
France - 0.33 coefficient points (5 teams left, Lille eliminated)
Russia - 0.40 coefficient points (4 teams left, Spartak Moscow eliminated)
Portugal - 0.33 coefficient points (5 teams left, Rio Ave eliminated)
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.