Liverpool In The Champions League: Who Stands In The Way Of The Reds Reaching The Group Stages?

CARDIFF, WALES - Wednesday, August 31, 2016: The European Cup trophy on display during a gala dinner at the Cardiff Museum to launch the UEFA Champions League Finals 2017 to be held in Cardiff. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

LIVERPOOL’S final-day flourish to secure fourth place in the Premier League means The Reds will have to navigate a two-legged play-off in August before a Champions League group stage spot is in the bag.

While it could be seen as another potential banana skin in the Reds’ return to Continental football, results around Europe this past weekend dictate that Jürgen Klopp’s side will be seeded, meaning they will avoid some of the stronger sides.

The draw takes place in Nyon on August 4 with the first leg of the play-off taking place on either August 16 or August 17, with the return leg a week later on August 23 or August 24

But who can the Reds still face and what can we expect from any potential opponent?

Club Bruges

Manager: Michel Preud’homme

League finish: Second (also second in ‘Championship Round’ league play-off)

Top scorer: Jelle Vossen (18 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

The Belgian side lost every game of their Champions League group this season, which featured Leicester City.

The Reds have previously faced Club Bruges three times, all three of which were in European finals. The first two came across two legs of the 1976 UEFA Cup final, in which Liverpool won 4-3 on aggregate. The third meeting came in the 1978 European Cup final, which crowned consecutive European Cup triumphs for the Reds — the first two of five European Cup wins. Three European trophies in three years, alright that isn’t it?

CSKA Moscow

Manager: Viktor Goncharenko

League finish: Second

Top scorer: Bibras Natcho (seven goals in all comps)

Anything else?

The first and only meeting between the two sides came in the European Super Cup in 2005. CSKA took the lead in the 28th minute before Djibril Cisse equalised eight minutes from time. Cisse then put Liverpool ahead in extra time and Luis Garcia settled the tie in the 109th minute.

In more recent times, the Russians failed to win a single game in the 2016-17 Champions League group stage, alongside Premier League runners-up Tottenham Hotspur.


Manager: Julian Nagelsmann

League finish: Fourth

Top scorer: Andrej Kramaric (18 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Nagelsmann took the managerial reigns at Hoffenheim when he was just 28 years old, making him the youngest manager in Bundesliga history. The now 29-year-old never played a single game at senior level, being forced into early retirement at youth level due to persistent knee injuries. He became the understudy to Thomas Tuchel, now the boss at Dortmund, during his time at Mainz after a few years at university.

Next year will be the club’s first appearance in Europe’s top competition. Hoffenheim were also Roberto Firmino’s last club.

GER, 1. FBL, 1. FC Nuernberg vs TSG 1899 Hoffenheim


Manager: Lucien Favre

League finish: Third

Top scorer: Mario Balotelli (17 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Liverpool couldn’t get rid of Balotelli quick enough but Nice have reaped the benefits of giving the Italian another chance. The mercurial striker is the joint fifth top scorer in Ligue 1 and is open to extending his one-year deal with the French club. The Nice manager said recently: “I was open (to the signing of Balotelli). In the end, it was a very good idea! All in all, he helped Nice. On the marketing side too, we must not deny it.”

Despite Balotelli’s improvement, Nice weren’t able to make it out of their Europa League group this campaign.

KINGSTON-UPON-HULL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 28, 2015: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli in action against Hull City during the Premier League match at the KC Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Sporting Lisbon

Manager: Jorge Jesus

League finish: Third

Top scorer: Bas Dost (36 goals in all comps)

Anything else? 

Sporting had the misfortune of being drawn alongside quarter-finalists Borussia Dortmund and finalists Real Madrid in their Champions League group this season, and finished rock bottom.

Despite no mutual playing history between the two sides, Liverpool and Sporting Lisbon have shared several players over the years. Phil Babb was the first to feature for both sides before Emiliano Insua, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Alberto Aquilani, Lazar Markovic and Sebastian Coates, who still plays for the Portuguese club, followed suit.

Sporting could yet be seeded if Ajax were to win the Europa League final tonight, as that would see the Dutch club by-pass qualifying and go straight in at the group stage.

Steaua Bucharest

Manager: Viorel Tănase

League finish: Second (also second in ‘Championship Round’)

Top scorer: Denis Alibec (nine goals in all comps)

Anything else?

After losing out in Champions League qualifying this campaign, the club from Romania’s capital city failed to progress from their Europa League group.

The Reds have had four previous meetings with the Romanian side, all four of which have come in Europe’s second tier competition. In 2003, Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool side overcame Steaua over two legs in the second round of the UEFA Cup, which Rafa Benitez’s Valencia went on to win. And more recently, during the forgettable Roy Hodgson era, Liverpool were drawn against Bucharest in the Europa League group stage — in fact, the 4-1 win at Anfield was Hodgson’s biggest win as manager.

Young Boys

Manager: Adi Hütter

League finish: Second

Top scorer: Guillaume Hoarau (25 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Another previous opponent at the group stage of the Europa League, this time during the first year of Brendan Rodgers’ reign. The first tie in Switzerland was an entertaining encounter, the Reds running out 5-3 winners courtesy of goals from Andre Wisdom, Sebastian Coates and Jonjo Shelvey. The second meeting was a 2-2 draw at Anfield, the Swiss side equalising two minutes from time to cancel out goals from Shelvey and Joe Cole.

Young Boys were another side unsuccessful in both Champions League qualifying and the Europa League group stages in 2016-17.

BERNE, SWITZERLAND - Thursday, September 20, 2012: Liverpool's players line up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Group A match against BSC Young Boys at the Wankdorf Stadion. Back row L-R: Andre Wisdom, Sebastian Coates, Jose Enrique, goalkeeper Brad Jones, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing. Front row L-R: Oussama Assaidi, Daniel Pacheco, captain Jamie Carragher, 'Suso' Jesus Joaquin Fernandez Saenz De La Torre, Nuri Sahin. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)


Manager: Şenol Güneş

League finish: First

Top scorer: Cenk Tosun (22 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Gloss over the penalty shootout loss to Besiktas back in 2015, the fondest memory for Reds will be the 8-0 win at Anfield in 2007. Peter Crouch scored twice, Yossi Benayoun three times, Steven Gerrard once and Ryan Babel twice, in one of the biggest wins Anfield has witnessed in recent times. Babel currently plays for Besiktas having moved there in January.

Slavia Prague

Manager:  Jaroslav Šilhavý (Slavia Prague)

League finish: First

Top scorer: Milan Škoda (16 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Both Vladimir Smicer and Patrik Berger came through the ranks at Slavia and went on to become cult heroes at Anfield, but The Reds have never faced the Czech champions who lost out in the qualifying round of this season’s Europa League.

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, March 2, 2003: Liverpool players and officials(Djimi Traore, Emile Heskey, Vladimir Smicer, Patrik Berger, Markus Babbel, Michael Owen, Chris Kirkland) stand together and sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' after beating Manchester United 2-0 to win the Football League Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

AEK Athens

Manager: Manolo Jimenez

League finish: Fourth (first in Greek Super League’s Champions League/Europa League play-off)

Top scorer: Tomas Pekhart (12 goals in all comps)

Anything else?

Liverpool faced AEK Athens over two legs back in 1972 on the way to their first UEFA Cup win. Bill Shankly’s side overcame the Greeks 6-1 on aggregate with Phil Boersma, Peter Cormack and Tommy Smith scoring in the first leg before an Emlyn Hughes double and Boersma confirmed a place in the third round. The Reds also signed Sotirios Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens for £2m back in 2009.

In more recent times, AEK lost out in the third qualifying round of this season’s Europa League to quarter-finalists Saint Etienne.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 17, 2011: Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt celebrates with team-mate Sotirios Kyrgiakos after scoring an injury time equalising goal from the penalty spot against Arsenal during the Premiership match at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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  1. Charlie Stubbs

    So…. garbage, garbage, garbage and even Hodgson could beat garbage. Good – we need to reach the group stages.

  2. It’s Panathinaikos and I can assure you PAOK is going to get first playoffs’ place.

  3. Liverpool In The Champions League: Who Stands In The Way Of The Reds Reaching The Group Stages?

    FSG do.

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