European competition will host at least two new faces from the Premier League next season in Newcastle and Brighton.
Newcastle secured Champions League football for next season with a 0 – 0 draw against Leicester on Monday. Their inevitable transformation into a swollen, indulgent footballing behemoth is ahead of schedule.
For now at least, we can talk about it as a coaching story, and it’s a good one. Eddie Howe has taken Newcastle from fighting relegation to the top four in a season and a half.
He built the team on a foundation of intense, hard-running, hard-tackling attritional defensive football, but showed capacity to adapt too. Around the time they lost the League Cup final, it looked as if their Champions League push might peter out.
Since then, Newcastle have added goals to their game and will deservedly finish at least third. They will be in the Champions League for the first time since 2003 and will presumably sign good players in the summer.
Brighton, meanwhile, have ensured their wonderful season finishes with the reward it deserves. After their 3 – 1 win over Southampton on Sunday, they will have at least Conference League football next season. One more win guarantees the Europa League. It’s an incredible achievement for a team which has never played in Europe before.
For a top 6 team, Brighton have been too up and down to make the Champions League. However, within the context of that inconsistency, they’ve been unlucky. The wrong results at the wrong time have been significant for them – for example, a disallowed goal against Spurs robbed them of an advantageous position.
Aston Villa currently occupy 7th place and a spot in the Conference League, and could still leapfrog Brighton in 6th to qualify for the Europa League. Both Tottenham and Brentford could also finish 7th if results go their way.
Liverpool also look set for the Europa League. They could still usurp Manchester United in fourth, but they need them to lose their last two games. United can secure 4th place with a win against Chelsea on Thursday.