SCOTLAND’S leading clubs face missing out on the Europa League when a third continental competition is launched by UEFA in 2021, it has emerged.

European football’s governing body announced at the weekend that a new tournament, which has been given the working title of Europa League 2, will be introduced in three years’ time.

The revamp, though, could see clubs from this country drop into the third tier competition due to their lowly UEFA ranking.

Both Celtic and Rangers have done well in the Europa League this season and have the chance to qualify for the knockout stages next week.

Celtic will progress to the last 32 for the second year running if they can draw with or beat Salzburg in their final Group B match at Parkhead on Thursday week or if RB Leipzig fail to defeat Rosenborg at home.

Rangers, who got through four qualifying rounds to reach the group phase, will progress if they can defeat Rapid Vienna in their final Group G match in Austria.

However, a reshuffle of Europe’s club competitions will mean only the top 15 countries in the UEFA coefficient table would be included in the Europa League. Scotland are currently placed 20th.

The Scottish champions will still have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League group stages – but only the clubs from the 15 top-ranked nations will go into the Europa League group stages or qualifying rounds.

Under the changes, the number of clubs in the Europa League will be cut to 32 teams - and there will be an extra play-off round between the group stage and the last 16.

However, Europa League 2 will still feature clubs from the major leagues in Europe – the seventh-placed teams from Spain, England, Italy and Germany would all be involved. This season Sevilla, Burnley, Atalanta and Stuttgart all would have gone into Europa League 2 group stages.

Elsewhere, the sixth-placed team in France and the fourth and fifth-best teams in Portugal would play in the new tournament.

The new competition and Europa League will have the same format - eight groups of four teams. The winners will progress to the last 16.

There will be a play-off before the first knockout round for the teams who finish second in the group and sides who finish third in the groups of the higher tournament.

Scotland will have to dramatically improve their coefficient in the next three years to get into the Europa League.

They are currently five points adrift of 15th placed Switzerland in the standings and trail behind countries like Greece, Cyprus and Serbia.

Celtic and Rangers progressing to the knockout rounds of this season’s Europa League would be a start.

UEFA works out a country’s coefficient for the season by dividing its total points haul by the number of teams it has competing.

Scotland has six points this season thanks to the success - a figure only bettered by the four top-ranked countries.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin believes the new tournament will be beneficial to lesser footballing nations across the continent.

He said: “The new competition makes Uefa’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before. There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages.

“This competition was born out of ongoing dialogue with clubs through the European Club Association.”

Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, has been involved in discussions about the formation of the new European competition.

His fellow European Club Association member Raphael Landthaler, the Rapid Vienna director, revealed the Parkhead official had been part of a taskforce charged with looking at the feasibility of a third European competition.

Landthaler believes the move will be positive for Scottish clubs as it will mean that more of them will be able to compete in European competitions than is currently the case.

“I am in the taskforce charged with delivering the plan, alongside Celtic , Ajax and HJK Helsinki,” he said back in September.

“Every nation in Europe will be represented in all three competitions - the top nations won’t get any more places.

“That’s attractive for countries like Austria, Scotland or the Netherlands. For example, this year AC Milan could have been in the group stage of the new competition.”

There were three European competitions - the European Cup, European Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup - until 1999 when the Champions League was launched and the cup winners’ cup was merged into the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League.