After a wonderful World Cup, international football returns this week and in Europe a brand new tournament launches aiming to increase the quality and competitiveness of non-qualifying matches. Here we break down how the Nations League will work, its role in qualifying for Euro 2020, and where the Chelsea interest is…
What is the Nations League?
The new European-wide tournament, which starts on Thursday, replaces most friendly matches and aims to increase the standard and competition of international football. It will also offer four teams a route into Euro 2020.
When is it?
The league games will take place in the September, October and November international breaks this year, with the finals scheduled for June 2019.
How does the competition work?
The 55 UEFA nations have been split into four leagues, depending on what their UEFA coefficient was at the end of World Cup qualifying last year.
The top 12 teams are in League A, followed by 12 teams in League B, 15 in League C and 16 in League D.
Each league is then divided into four groups of three or four teams, with each team playing each other home and away.
In Leagues B, C and D, the team finishing top of each group is promoted to a higher league. In Leagues A, B and C, the team finishing bottom of each group is relegated to a lower league.
League A, where the majority of the Chelsea interest will be with the likes of France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and England, contains four groups of three teams. The winners of each of those four groups will advance to next summer’s knockout finals to determine the overall Nations League winner.
How does the Nations League affect qualifying for Euro 2020?
Qualifying for the next European Championships runs from March to November next year. The top two teams from 10 groups will automatically qualify for the finals. That will account for 20 of the finalists. The final four places are where the Nations League comes in again.
The four group winners from each league - A, B, C and D, so 16 teams in all - will play off in March 2020 in a bid to secure one of the four remaining places. The format will be one-off play-off semi-finals, followed by a final, per league, with the winning team from each of leagues A, B, C and D taking the last four spots at the Euros.
If a country has already qualified by the conventional route, their place will go to the next highest-ranked team from their respective Nations League tier.
What are the Chelsea match-ups?
Germany and world champions France are paired in Group 1 of League A, and they meet in Munich on Thursday. Netherlands complete that group.
England, Spain and Croatia are in Group 4 of League A, with likely Chelsea interest in all three teams since Mateo Kovacic’s arrival. England start against Spain on Friday.
Belgium are in Group 2 with Switzerland and Iceland, and Italy Group 3 alongside Portugal and Poland.
The remainder of the Chelsea involvement will be in Group 4 of League B where Denmark, featuring Andreas Christensen, and Wales, including Ethan Ampadu, have been drawn with Ireland. Denmark and Wales face off in Aarhus on Sunday.