No Liverpool fan really wants their club to be in the Europa League. The Champions League knockout hurt, really hurt, but now the club and it's fans need to move on and focus on the challenge at hand.
The draw for the first knockout round of the Europa League, the round of 32, is Monday morning. Because Liverpool weren't one of the top four teams that dropped from the Champions League, they're "unseeded" for the draw, meaning that they will be drawn against one of the first-place teams from the Europa League group stage, or possibly one of the aforementioned top four Champions League dropouts. The only other restriction is that they can't be drawn against another English team, keeping them from a matchup against Everton for the time being.
Liverpool can therefore be drawn against one of fifteen teams from all across Europe. Predicting who exactly they'll face is impossible, but we can at least look at the list to find matchups that are more or less ideal for Liverpool. Which team offers Liverpool the best chance to advance? Who's their toughest foe? What other notable matchups are there?
Best Draw - Legia Warsaw
1st in Ekstraklasa (Poland) - 1st in Europa League Group L
Legia Warsaw are a young and interesting club that's been dominating Poland's top division in recent years. They did very well to finish first in a group that included Trabzonspor and under-rated Belgian side Lokeren, but the simple fact is that they are far from the best team left in this competition.
Liverpool could have some few problems facing Legia in Warsaw, as their home stadium is loud and their fans get behind the team in a big, big way. But at Anfield, with a strong Liverpool side on the pitch, the Polish side simply doesn't have the talent to hang with Liverpool. Yes, we've heard that belief before with Basel and Ludogorets, but those two teams would likely wipe the floor with Legia.
Worst Draw - Borussia Monchengladbach
5th in Bundesliga (Germany) - 1st in Europa League Group A
There are teams in the seeded group that Liverpool could be drawn against that are more talented than Gladbach. There are teams in that group that have more history of success than Gladbach. But as far as a direct matchup against Liverpool goes, no team may be better suited to defeat Liverpool than Gladbach.
Gladbach under Lucien Favre play a very organized brand of football that features a number of talented players. They hit fiercely on the counter, but that's far from the only threat they can generate; if you let them build up possession, Max Kruse, Granit Xhaka, Branimir Hrgota, and Patrick Herrmann will find ways to punish you for it. Fans will take other sides like Inter Milan or Ajax or Olympiakos more seriously, but Gladbach should not be discounted as a massive threat.
Historical Draw - Olympiakos
1st in Superleague (Greece) - 3rd in Champions League Group A
It's impossible to mention Olympiakos to Liverpool fans without conjuring memories of that match at Anfield, when in the last matchday of the group stage, Liverpool overcame a 1-0 deficit at halftime to beat the Greek side 3-1 and secure advancement to the knockout rounds en route to their eventual win in the competition.
This year, they dropped down to the Europa League after failing to overcome Juventus or Atletico Madrid to advance in the Champions League. Olympiakos instantly become one of the best teams in the Europa League, though, and their disciplined style is one that's given Liverpool fits this season. As such, this is probably also a draw to avoid for Liverpool.
Days Of Future Past Draw - Napoli
6th in Serie A (Italy) - 1st in Europa League Group I
Not only is this a nightmarish draw for a certain person who covers both teams who shall remain nameless, but it's also a fascinating one to Liverpool fans. That is, of course, because Napoli are managed by Rafa Benitez, a Liverpool fan favorite and the last manager to bring significant success to Anfield, including the 2005 Champions League win. In fact, for many fans, Rafa is the man they want to see brought in should Brendan Rodgers get sacked.
It's also a matchup between two struggling and disappointing sides in their respective leagues, with neither fanbase satisfied with their respective seasons. In a way, the connections and parallels between the two clubs make this an almost too obvious draw to have happen. If it does, we can only hope that things go smoother off the pitch; last time these two teams met, during Europa qualifying in 2010, there were clashes between the fans during both legs of the tie, especially in Naples.
The full list of teams Liverpool can be drawn against is below. Who do you want to see Liverpool face, tough match, easy match, or otherwise?
|Red Bull Salzburg||Austria|
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