Liverpool will return to the scene of one of the most memorable nights in their history when they resume European football in the New Year.
Having been eliminated from the UEFA Champions League after finishing third in their group, Brendan Rodgers is now plotting success in the UEFA Europa League. The first step on this road will be a familiar one for the Anfield faithful, as they face a trip to Istanbul – where they ruled Europe back in 2005 – to take on a Besiktas side they thrashed 8-0 when they last met in 2007-08.
The Turkish side topped their qualifying group, which included Tottenham Hotspur, and their striker Demba Ba – who broke Reds’ hearts whilst wearing Chelsea colours in the Premier League last season – said: “It’s a difficult pairing. Liverpool are having some hard times now. They couldn’t get the results they desired and things are not going well for them (but) hard games are ahead of us. If we can snatch a good result in the first leg, it will be an advantage to be playing the second leg at home.”
Liverpool aren’t the only Merseyside representatives in the competition, after their neighbours Everton won three and drew two of their six matches to top their qualifying group. Roberto Martinez’s men have been rewarded for this impressive showing with a tie against Swiss side Young Boys of Berne, who will pose a different challenge for the Toffees due to their artificial pitch.
Tottenham, who won this competition in its previous guise as the UEFA Cup in both 1972 and 1984, face a potentially tricky test when they take on Fiorentina. The Italian side won four of their six matches to qualify as winners of their group, and although they are currently lying eighth place in the Serie A standings, they are only three points off Champions League qualification.
Scottish champions Celtic also face Italian competition, when they take on Inter Milan. The Bhoys famously beat the Nerazzurri in the European Cup final of 1967 in Lisbon, and might just fancy their chances this time around against Roberto Mancini’s team who are enduring a difficult campaign in which they are in 12th position in Serie A, eight points adrift of third place.
Reigning Europa holders Sevilla take on Borussia Monchengladbach. The other ties are: Torino v Athletic Bilbao; Wolfsburg v Sporting Lisbon; Ajax v Legia Warsaw; AaB v Club Brugge; Anderlecht v Dinamo Moscow; Dnipro v Olympiakos; Trabzonspor v Napoli; Guingamp v Dynamo Kiev; Villarreal v Red Bull Salzburg; Roma v Feyenoord; and PSV Eindhoven v Zenit St Petersburg.
The competition in the past has been derided due to its Thursday evening slot, which means many of the clubs involved are then forced to move their domestic fixture to the Sunday afternoon. However, it is sure to be placed higher up the list of priorities this season as, for the first time, the winners of the tournament will be granted entry into the Champions League next term.
Given that there is a Champions League place at stake, how much importance does the Europa League have? Let us know what you think by joining the discussion below.