What a difference two years makes! I did a similar draw preview when Liverpool topped its Europa League group in 2015/16, and the only opponent to make both lists is the Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. Whereas I listed Shaktar as one of the worst possible draws for Liverpool in the Europa League Round of 178, they will be one of our best bets this time for advancement to the quarterfinals. But I may have gotten ahead of myself.
In the Round of 16 draw, set to take place on Monday, UEFA sorts the teams into group winners (Pot 1) and group runners up (Pot 2). Moreover, teams are protected from drawing other teams from their home country, and from their group. For Liverpool, this means group runners up Chelsea are not an option, nor are Sevilla. Therefore, Liverpool’s possible match-ups are Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Basel.
For sake of convenience, I’ve listed the opponents by their UEFA coefficient ranking.
It’s absolutely mad we could draw the team seeking their third European Cup on the trot after winning our group, but here we are. Real Madrid are 12-time winners of the competition, including three of the last four. They are struggling—by their lofty standards, at least—currently 4th in La Liga, 8 points behind league leaders Barcelona. Despite finishing second in their group, they still accumulated more points than Liverpool (13 to our 12), in a group containing Tottenham and Dortmund, no less. Cristiano Ronaldo currently leads all goal-scorers in the Champions League with 9, having scored in each of the 6 group stage matches. Additionally, Gareth Bale, plagued by injuries this season, will likely be fit by the time Champions League play resumes in February. We probably don’t want those two running at our less-than-stellar defense.
The Bavarian Reds are also not a team you’d expect to end up in Pot 2, but here we are. The 5-time European champs finished level on points with group winners Paris Saint-Germain with 15, but with vastly inferior goal difference (Bayern had a +7 GD in the group, compared to PSG’s eye-watering +21). Bayern, despite a slow start to the campaign, are 6-points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, and will likely be turning their full attention to the Champions League by February. Their joint top-scorers are Robert Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso with 3 goals a piece. They are a dangerous side, but Liverpool might have a bit more confidence after the 3-0 win over Bayern in the Audi Cup in Munich this past summer.
Yup. Both of last year’s Champions League finalists are in Pot 2. Joy. Juventus are two-time winners of the competition, and have a substantial European pedigree. The Italian side finished second in the group behind Barcelona, making efficient use of their 7 goals scored in 6 matches to accumulate 11 points. Juve are less stingy in Serie A, currently topping the league with 41 goals in 15 matches. The Old Lady are currently in a scrap for the top spot in Italy, sitting third behind Inter Milan and Napoli, but just 2 points back.
The Portuguese side have a great deal of European experience, and are two-time winners of the competition, most recently in 2004 when Jose Mourinho led them to glory. However, lately it is rare that Porto make it beyond the Round of 16, which is where they exited the competition last year. Porto finished second in their group on 10 points behind Besiktas. Porto are currently top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga, ahead of Sporting CP on goal differential. Their top scorer in the Champions League is Vincent Aboubakar with 5 goals.
Shakhtar have been regulars in European competitions regularly, but have yet to make a real run at the Champions League. Their best Champions League appearance was a quarterfinal run in 2011 (which, admittedly, is more recent than Liverpool’s last run). Additionally, they won the Europa League in 2008/09, and lost in the semifinals of the same competition to Sevilla in 2015/16 (who, memorably, beat Liverpool in the final). Shakhtar are currently 4 points clear at the top of the Ukrainian Premier League.
Liverpool can be forgiven for wanting to avoid this side, considering they ushered in the end of our last Champions League run in 2014/15. However, on paper they are still one of our better draws. They enter Pot 2 as runners up to Manchester United in Group A, securing 12 points along the way. Like Shakhtar, they are regulars in European competition, playing continental football every season since 1999/2000, but have yet to threaten for Europe’s top honor. Their best European Cup run was in 1974 when they exited in the quarterfinals. Their best-ever European run in a major competition was a semifinal exit in the 2012/13 Europa League. Basel are currently 4 points off the pace, chasing Young Boys, in the Swiss Super League.