LIVERPOOL’S final-day flourish to secure fourth place in the Premier League means The Reds will have to navigate a two-legged playoff this month before a Champions League group-stage spot is in the bag.
While it could be seen as another potential banana skin in Liverpool’s return to Continental football, results at the back end of last season dictate that Jürgen Klopp’s side will be seeded, meaning they will avoid some of the stronger teams in the hat.
The draw takes place in Nyon on Friday, August 4 with the first leg of the playoff taking place on either August 15 or August 16, with the return leg a week later on August 22 or August 23.
But who can The Reds still face and what can we expect from any potential opponent?
Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
League finish: Fourth
Top scorer: Andrej Kramaric (18 goals in all comps)
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.
Manager: Lucien Favre
League finish: Third
Top scorer: Mario Balotelli (17 goals in all comps)
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.
Manager: Nicolae Dica
League finish: Second (also second in ‘Championship Round’)
Top scorer: Denis Alibec (nine goals in all comps)
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.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 22 February 2017
Manager: Adi Hütter
League finish: Second
Top scorer: Guillaume Hoarau (25 goals in all comps)
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.
Manager: Abdullah Avci
League finish: Second
Top scorer: Edin Visca (10 goals all comps)
The club were formed in 1990 and became professional under the guise of Istanbul BB, changing to their current name in 2014. They do have some familiar faces in the side; former Newcastle United midfielder Emre Belozoglu, former Premier League journeyman Emmanuel Adebayor and recently-departed Manchester City left back Gael Clichy. Basaksehir were knocked out at the qualifying stage of last season’s Europa League.