Liverpool find themselves in Pot 2 (aka unseeded) for tomorrow's Europa League draw for the round of 32. A UEFA spokesman put it best:
"Liverpool will not be one of the seeded teams.
"The top seeds are the 12 groups winners from the Europa League and the best four third-placed sides from the Champions League.
"Among the clubs dropping down from the Champions League, Juventus and Unirea Urziceni won more points than Liverpool, while Marseille and Wolfsburg had a better goal difference."
There's no need to emphasize the pedigree of some of the potential opponents: Juventus and Roma from Italy, Galatasaray (and Harry Kewell) and Fenerbache from Turkey, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg from Germany, Benfica and Sporting from Portugal, and Valencia from Spain. And that's completely ignoring the seven other teams that certainly aren't going to roll over for Liverpool.
Pot 2 isn't exactly a cake walk either, with Atletico Madrid, Panathinaikos, Villareal, and Ajax keeping Liverpool company. The two other English clubs, Everton and Fulham, were spotty at times during the group stages, but coming from a Liverpool perspective anyone advancing from the group stages in any competition is impressive.
Anyone (myself included) thinking that the Europa League would present Liverpool with a respite from their failings this season will be sorely disappointed. It's a very real possibility that Liverpool could face a great struggle in this stage of the competition, with plenty of potential tough away fixtures on the horizon. If Liverpool's form in the Champions League is any indication, it'll be a battle come mid-February.
By that time Liverpool should theoretically be a full-strength squad, but there's no telling what could happen in the next couple of months. This competition poses a real challenge for Rafa Benitez, and as I've mentioned before, I truly hope he fields a side that can give it a go. A proper showing in the Europa League, even after a thorough neutering in the Champions League, would go a long way for the supporters. Liverpool have won this competition, or some form of it, three times, most recently in 2001 under Gerard Houllier. Maybe Rafa can buy Stevie Warnock in the January window, play him through the first few knockout rounds, name him in the squad, then have Sammy Lee call to tell him that Phillipp Degen has been included instead. Thus completing his utter domination of the boy's soul. Just a thought.
In the meantime, get yourself acclimated to a new anthem, one that is unfortunately less-than-Pavlovian in its ability to make me crave Heineken: