Early Hearts projections for Europa Conference League as Brighton and Napoli provide third place incentive

The Europa Conference League is going to have a whole new look next season.

Nothing is decided yet but one thing about next season looks certain - Hearts will play European football of some kind.

With a 14-point gap on fourth-spot Kilmarnock, Steven Naismith's men are in pole position for a strong European spot. Should a team with Champions League group stage or qualifiers booked out of the top two Premiership slots win the Scottish Cup - likely Rangers and Celtic in the league positions - that Europa League play-off berth is passed to third place. The Scottish Cup coming to Gorgie come May would be another way to open up fifth as a European spot.

A play-off spot in the second tier competition would guarantee European group stage football again in Edinburgh, as even a defeat would send them into the third tier. Should that not happen though, for example through a bottom six club or a Championship side winning the Scottish Cup, Hearts would start their journey at the second round of Europa League qualifying through third, which would provide a gruelling gauntlet.

Early projections from Football Rankings show the prize at stake for Hearts if they make the Conference League groups. But that tournament is all change heading into next term.

UEFA state: "The biggest change is to the group stage, which will become a single 36-team League stage. Each side faces six different teams (three at home, three away). The top eight overall advance directly to the round of 16; sides finishing from ninth to 24th will contest the knockout round play-offs, with the victors going through to the last 16. From then on it is a straight knockout."

In the projections, Hearts are in pot 4, but Football Rankings say: "They will play only six matches in league phase of UECL, so one match against team from each of the pots, while they will play eight in UCL and UEL (two per pot)."

So much can change across the continent between now and the end of the season. But with a wide range of teams to choose from right, the Edinburgh Evening News looks at the teams currently heading for Europe now, and the type of games that fans can look forward to if their team gets over the line.

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