Liverpool: 5 Teams Reds Will Be Desperate to Avoid in Europa League Last 32
Liverpool ended their Europa League campaign on top of Group A after a 1-0 win against Udinese saw them finish jointly with Anzhi Makhachkala and BSC Young Boys on 10 points. Liverpool's superior head-to-head record enabled them to go through as group winners. As both Europa and Champions Leagues' group stages have now ended, the Reds know exactly which teams their opponents can be drawn from.
The Europa League might not have the prestige or the financial gains of the Champions League, but it is still very much a trophy that would be fantastic for Liverpool to win.
There is a lot of football left to play, with nine matches for a team to reach the final from here. Liverpool's main concern at this point will be to avoid a particularly difficult Round of 32 tie.
Country protection is still enforced at this point, so Liverpool will not play Spurs or Newcastle, both of whom finished as the runner-up in their respective groups. That leaves the Reds' possible opponents as any other Europa League group runner-up and any of the four worst third-placed teams from the Champions League groups.
Here are the five sides the Reds would most like to avoid.
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The reigning champions of the Europa League, Atletico Madrid, are as good a place to start this list as any.
If the trophy isn't enough, further evidence of their quality can be found in a quick glance at La Liga's current table. Atleti sit in second place with just two defeats all season so far, one of which was in the local derby against Real.
The Atletico Madrid squad is full of quality. They only came second in their group, with Viktoria Plzen finishing top. But when they begin to play a full, strongest-available XI in the Europa League, they will again be in the hunting to retain their trophy.
Three wins from three at home in Europe and seven from seven in La Liga show just what a force they are in their own stadium.
The first leg of Liverpool's Round of 32 fixtures will be played away from Anfield; the Vicente Calderon is one place they will certainly not be wanting to visit at this stage.
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Back in 2008, Liverpool and Inter Milan were two of the best teams in all of Europe, doing battle in the UEFA Champions League.
Fast forward to early 2013 and the pair could meet in the Round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League; quite the comedown for both clubs.
Liverpool certainly wouldn't be over-awed by playing in the Giuseppe Meazza stadium again. And they would presumably fancy their chances against an Inter side who are in rebuild mode themselves to some extent.
However, it would be far from the easiest draw that the Reds could be handed at such an early stage of the competition.
One or two additions to the Liverpool squad in January could make this trip a little less daunting, if enough quality can be found. But right now a slightly easier tie would be welcome as Brendan Rodgers aims to make the most of his debut season in Europe without overtaxing his first team stars who need to be fit and firing in the Premier League.
Zenit St Petersburg
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Who fancies a nice 4,000 mile round-trip to Russia in mid-February?
Eight Champions League teams are dropping into the Europa League after the winter break, four of which Liverpool could potentially face in the last 32.
Zenit are perhaps the strongest of those teams overall, though in fairness none of the quartet dropping down from the elite competition represents a particularly appealing opponent for the Reds.
Zenit St Petersburg lie third in the Russian Premier League at present, just three points off the top. They also have the best away record in the country, which might be something of a concern if Brendan Rodgers fancied sending a shadow squad to "see through" the first leg in the hope of being able to turn the tie around at Anfield if need be.
A long-haul trip to Russia is never ideal, and especially not at this early stage of the knockout rounds.
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Liverpool had some success in Italy to reach the knockout stages, so it might not seem the worst fate for them to travel back there in the Round of 32.
But make no mistake, Napoli would present fierce opposition.
The Italians qualified second in Group F with just nine points, but they are going strong in their Serie A league, placed second behind only Juventus.
Talented attacking players in the squad need no introduction, but with only 12 goals conceded in 15 games domestically they also have the second-best defensive record.
With Liverpool not quite looking cut-throat on attack, this would present a very difficult test for the Reds.
If the potential trip to face Zenit St Petersburg is long, then one to face Dynamo Kyiv is hardly any better.
The first leg would require around 3,400 miles of travelling for the Liverpool players and staff, and the temperatures in Ukraine might not be much better than those in Russia either.
Kyiv exited the Champions League after finishing third behind Paris St Germain and Porto in Group A, with their away form costing them as they took only one point.
They also stand third in their domestic league at present, and would be tough opposition. Liverpool should be able to offer a good account of themselves over two legs, though, especially with the second being played at Anfield.
Even so, the prospect of a very long trip will not appeal to Brendan Rodgers and his players, and the Reds will hope for a more comfortable re-start to continental football in the new year.
The draw for the Europa League Rounds of 32 and 16 ties will take place on December 20, 2012.