Tuesday 12 December 2017

Blues to learn fate of life in lower tier

Martin Hardy

Roman Abramovich in the Europa League. Today the Champions League exit will hit home hardest. At 10.30 the draw for Europe's elite competition will take place in Nyon. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will find out who awaits them in the knockout stage of Europe's top competition.

At 1.0, Chelsea, the reigning champions of Europe, will find out where they will head in the Europa League, other than the harsh reality of the Champions League's shadows.

Rafa Benitez has had some round of fixtures to deal with since he took over last month. The Champions League, the Premier League, the Carling Cup, the FA Cup, the Club World Cup and the Europa League in the second week in February will test his patience as much as the fans still questioning him.

Chelsea are one of eight teams dumped from the Champions League into the Europa League at the final-32 stage. There are two pots at this stage. In pot one go the 12 group winners (including Liverpool) and the four best-performing Champions League sides.

They will face, away leg first, the remaining 12 runners-up from the group stage (Newcastle and Tottenham) and the other four Champions League sides. At the last-32 stage, no side can play a team that they faced in the Europa League group stage or one from their own country.

For Chelsea, they could face Madrid, but it will be Atletico. They could face Milan, but it will be Internazionale. Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg and Ajax are also potential opponents. Liverpool could end up with Inter or Napoli, who have the tournament's top scorer in Edinson Cavani.

Newcastle would probably prefer to avoid any of the fallen Champions League teams – Olympiakos, Benfica or Cluj. Those are potential opponents for Tottenham as well, but at least Andre Villas-Boas knows that, unlike Alan Pardew, he will not draw Lazio this time. (© Independent News Service)

SEEDED TEAMS (12 group winners plus four best Champions League drop-outs): Liverpool, Viktoria Plzen, Fenerbahce, Bordeaux, Steaua Bucharest, Dnipro, Genk, Rubin Kazan, Lyons, Lazio, Metalist Kharkiv, Hannover, Chelsea, CFR Cluj, Olympiakos, Benfica.

UNSEEDED TEAMS (12 group runners-up plus four worst drop-outs):

Anzhi Makhachkala, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Newcastle, Stuttgart, Napoli, Basle, Internazionale, Sparta Prague, Tottenham, Bayer Leverkusen, Levante, Zenit St Petersburg, BATE Borisov, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax.

Round-of-32 games to be played on February 14 and 21, with last-16 fixtures set for March 7 and 14. Teams from same group or country can't be paired until last-16.

Europa League draw, Live, Eurosport and Sky Sports News, from 10.30

Irish Independent

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