The Champions League Rat Race: Who will claim the third and final Champions League spot?

It’s that time of the season again in China as teams fight tooth and nail for those final vaunted Champions League spots. With the position of Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG already all but secure, there remain FIVE teams battling it out for the third and final AFC Champions League spots.

As things stand,

Hebei China sit on third place with 39 points having played 23 games, Shandong Luneng in fourth place with 39 points but having played a game less than the team above them. Tianjin sit on 38 points after 22 games while Guangzhou are further points adrift having played 23 games.


They were playing so well two months ago and they were a virtual seal on the third Champions League place at the midway point of the season. But a disappointing run of games has seen Hebei fall down the table. A recent resurgence has seen them climb back into third but having played a game more than three of their direct rivals, Pellegrini is heading into squeaky-bum time.


One of the favorites to end up in third place. Currently sitting in fourth place by virtue of a worse head to head points with Hebei, the extra game in hand could propel Shandong into third place. They have a balanced squad and a comparatively easy run in as compared to their rivals will surely help their cause.


Following Hebei’s patchy form, the void in third was filled by Tianjin Quanjian. Wherever they finish, it has been a rollercoaster of a season after only getting promotion last term. They take on teams in the bottom half and fighting for survival and though easy on paper, the fixtures could get tricky. They are poised for a dramatic end to the campaign as they play both Shandong Luneng and Hebei China in the consecutive match days. Make or break time.


The team with the momentum. They were looking like strong title contenders before they decided to do a Manchester United and a run of several draws on the trot led to them falling off the pace. A recent resurgence has seen them climb back up. The team with the momentum having beaten Evergrande 4-2 twice in the League and the Cup. However, a tough run in featuring teams like Shanghai SIPG, Beijing Guoan, and Hebei China could prove to be the breaking point for this promising team. Big things are expected from this side but Champions League this season could be a step too far.


Beijing have had a stop-start season with inconsistency proving to be the Achilles heel for Roger Schmidt’s side. Beijing play both Shanghai and Guangzhou R&F in the run in but the gap between the sides could be a bridge too far for this team. Beijing’s recent form against the top sides is not something the fans are comfortable speaking about as defeats and draws to Hebei, Shandong and Tianjin have been played in their last six fixtures.

My fellow writer Ola Bjerkevoll believes: Everyone from third to seventh have a shot at this third place but I believe either Shandong or Beijing will take it as they have the easier run in. Shandong only need to face Tianjin and Hebei from the teams around them, while Beijing only have to deal with Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG. Shandong are currently three points ahead of Beijing so they can “afford” a loss as well should it come down to those two.

Personally, I feel it will come to Shandong and Tianjin Quanjian with the matchup between the two on the third matchday from last being a potential Champions League playoff. Guangzhou may have a word or two to say about this while Lavezzi has the ability to single handedly beat a team on his day. It will come to the finer points with head-to-head record potentially coming into play to separate the sides.

With the rivals having a number of games that seems them going head-to-head, things could be unresolved until possibly the final game of the season. This has turned into one of the most enthralling Champions League races in China in recent years and its end promises to be equally filled with drama, controversy, and high octane football.

Keep your eyes glued to your TV sets folks as this is sure to go down to the wire.