Europa League: New challenges ahead for Chelsea in shadow of Champions League elite


Roman Abramovich in the Europa League. Chelsea on ITV4, not even Channel 5. Today the Champions League exit will hit home hardest. At 10.30am the draw for Europe's elite competition will take place in Nyon. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will find out who awaits them in the knockout stage of Europe's top competition.

At 1pm Chelsea, the reigning champions of Europe, will find out where they will head in the Europa League, other than the harsh reality of the Champions League's shadows.

Rafa Benitez has had some round of fixtures to deal with since he took over from Roberto Di Matteo last month. The Champions League, the Premier League, the Carling Cup, the FA Cup, the Club World Cup and the Europa League in the second week in February, will test his patience as much as the supporters still questioning his appointment.

Chelsea are one of eight teams dumped from the Champions League into the Europa League at the final 32 stage.

There are two pots at this stage of the competition. In pot one go the 12 group winners (including Liverpool) and the four best-performing Champions League sides. They will face, away leg first, the remaining 12 runners up from the group stage (Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur) and the other four Champions League sides. At the last-32 stage, no side can play a team that they faced in the Europa League group stage or one from their own country.

For Chelsea they could face Madrid, but it will be Atletico. They could face Milan, but it will be Internazionale. Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg and Ajax are also potential opponents. Liverpool could end up, among others, with either Inter or Napoli, who boast the tournament's top scorer in Edinson Cavani.

Newcastle would probably prefer to avoid any of the fallen Champions League teams – Olympiakos, Benfica or Cluj. Those three are potential opponents for Tottenham as well, but at least the Spurs manager, Andre Villas-Boas, knows that, unlike Alan Pardew, he will not be running the risk of Lazio being drawn against his side today.

Europa League: Draw details

* The draw for the rounds of 32 and 16 take place today, featuring four English clubs. Teams from the same group or country can not be drawn with each other until the last 16.

Seeded teams (12 group winners + four best Champions League drop-outs): Liverpool, Viktoria Plzen, Fenerbahce, Bordeaux, Steaua Bucharest, Dnipro, Genk, Rubin Kazan, Lyons, Lazio, Metalist Kharkiv, Hannover, Chelsea, CFR Cluj, Olympiakos, Benfica.

Unseeded teams (12 group runners-up + four worst drop-outs):

Anzhi Makhachkala, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Newcastle, Stuttgart, Napoli, Basle, Internazionale, Sparta Prague, Tottenham, Bayer Leverkusen, Levante, Zenit St Petersburg, BATE Borisov, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax.

Round of 32: 14 & 21 February; Round of 16: 7 & 14 March.

* Best/worst draws for the Premier League quartet

Chelsea Basle/Atletico Madrid

Liverpool BATE Borisov/Internazionale

Newcastle Genk/Lyons

Tottenham Bordeaux/Dnipro