Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool are the English sides that will consider they have been given the trickier ties in the first knockout round of the Europa league, with Spurs facing Lyon and Liverpool off to Russia to play Zenit St. Petersburg. Chelsea drew Sparta Prague, whilst Newcastle will also collect plenty of air miles as they head to the Ukraine to play Metalist Kharkiv.
Spurs will bemoan their luck in terms of opposition, but their trip to France is at least relatively short given the distances some teams will be travelling. All eyes will no doubt be on Hugo Lloris, who returns to the club he left in the summer.
However Brad Friedel was handed the gloves in Spurs' last Europa League game and with Andre Villas-Boas still talking up the merits of both of his keepers, Lloris is not a certainty to play in France. Another player facing an old team will be Lyon's Steed Malbranque, who spent two seasons at White Hart Lane. Should Spurs progress, they will face either Inter or Cluj in the next round.
Having topped their group, Liverpool will feel hard done by in drawing Zenit. The Russian side have underwhelmed this season, but their purchases in the summer included Hulk and Alex Witsel, and if their first team have settled by the time the knockout round is played, Liverpool will be hard pressed to progress. If Rodger's side do get past Zenit, they will player either Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk or Basel in the subsequent round.
Chelsea were no doubt keen to avoid Atletico Madrid after their 4-1 loss to Falcao and company in the Super Cup earlier this season, and indeed they have, drawing Sparta Prague in the first knockout round. The Blues will be among the very favourites to win the tournament, and a friendly first round tie will certainly help their chances. If Chelsea progress, they then face either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest. Chelsea fans feeling glum about exiting the Champions League may be cheered by the prospect of trips to Prague and then perhaps Amsterdam.
Newcastle face a lengthy trip to the Ukraine in their first knockout round tie, having drawn Metalist Kharkiv. One man they will need to look out for is Brazilian forward Taison, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League lately. If Pardew's side progress they could be heading to Russia in the next knockout round, as they will face either Samuel Eto'o's Anzhi Mackhachkala or Hannover.
All four English teams have a fair chance of getting to the latter knockout stages of the tournament, but it's probably Chelsea and Newcastle fans who will feel the most confident of winning their first round match. Spurs fans will be cheered by glamorous matches against Lyon and then potentially Inter, whilst Liverpool fans perhaps got the worst deal of the four with their trip to St Petersburg.
image: © nicksarebi