The Champions League group stage draw is only two weeks away. On August 30th, Liverpool, along with the other 31 lucky teams, will discover what other three sides they’ll be taking on in the six-game round-robin. Despite being assured of Liverpool’s place in the group stages — an improvement over last season when they had to battle it out with Hoffenheim in a two-legged tie for a place — some things are nevertheless still up in the air.
It was assumed in May when Liverpool finished fourth in the league that they would be placed in pot three for the draw. They’re still there now, but last month’s shock PAOK win over Basel in the second qualifying round boosted Liverpool up to the top seed in pot three.
In order to sneak into pot two, the Reds need Portuguese side Benfica to get eliminated. Today, Benfica made it through the third qualifying round by eliminating Fenerbahce, despite the best efforts of Agent Skrtel, who started for the Turkish side. That means Benfica have one final hurdle to jump over in order to secure their place in the group stage and in pot two. And in an interesting twist, the team they’ll have to get through are Liverpool’s first saviors, Greek side PAOK.
The two-legged tie takes place on August 21st in Lisbon, and then the return leg will be in Greece on August 29th.
Should PAOK win, that would boost Liverpool into pot two. If Benfica make it through, then Liverpool are stuck in pot three. If the Reds are in pot three, then given their current form, whatever group they’re drawn into will be almost guaranteed to be this season’s group of death. The good news is that on paper, this side feels capable of taking on any team in Europe, no matter how stiff the competition.