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Villarreal book Champions League group stage place

The Yellow Submarine have booked a UEFA Champions League group stage place as UEFA Europa League winners.

The UEFA Europa League winners earn a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage
The UEFA Europa League winners earn a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage UEFA via Getty Images

What's the deal?

The winners of the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League have the added bonus of gaining automatic entry into the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League group stage. Villarreal, who had finished seventh in Spain in 2020/21, last featured at this elevated level in 2011/12.

Were UEFA Europa League winners always guaranteed a UEFA Champions League place?

The rule was first introduced in season 2014/15 – for access to the 2015/16 competition – though winners were initially assured only of a UEFA Champions League play-off spot, going straight into the group stage if either themselves or the UEFA Champions League holders had already qualified via their domestic league. That, in fact, always happened in the three seasons that particular rule existed. It switched to automatic entry in 2017/18.

What if the winners had already qualified via their domestic league?

If the UEFA Europa League winners had already qualified for the group stage via their domestic league, the third-placed team of the fifth-ranked association – namely, France's Monaco – would have entered the group stage. Losing finalists Manchester United were already certain of their UEFA Champions League group stage berth as English Premier League runners-up, so had United won then Monaco would have been upgraded.

In the previous three seasons, UEFA Europa League winners Atlético de Madrid, Chelsea and Sevilla had already qualified via their domestic league, meaning that France duly gained another group stage ticket.

Who has benefited so far?

2014/15 – winners Sevilla (finished fifth in Liga)
2015/16 – winners Sevilla (seventh in Liga)
2016/17 – winners Manchester United (sixth in Premier League)
2017/18 – Lyon
2018/19 – Lyon
2019/20 – Rennes
2020/21 winners Villarreal (seventh in Liga)

Please note that the associations' allocation of places may change. In addition, the conclusive access list is subject to UEFA's final approval.