European champs Chelsea face Sparta in Europa League
European champions Chelsea’s compensation for missing out on the Champions League knockout stages is a last-32 tie against Sparta Prague, former club of their goalkeeper Petr Cech, in the Europa League.
Thursday’s draw threw up a number of intriguing ties with Inter Milan, European champions in 2010, drawn against CFR Cluj of Romania and Ajax, four-times European Cup winners, taking on Steaua Bucharest who lifted the trophy in 1986.
Five-times European champions Liverpool face Zenit St Petersburg while Atletico Madrid, who won the Europa League last season, play Rubin Kazan of Russia.
Chelsea dropped down into the Europa League after becoming the first reigning European champions to fail to get through the group stage of the Champions League. Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk qualified from the Londoners’ group.
The winners of that tie will play either Ajax or Steaua.
Ajax also failed to survive the Champions League group stages, losing out to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, and they will have a tough task against Steaua who lead the Romanian championship by 10 points and topped their Europa League group.
Inter, second in Serie A, should have little problem against Cluj, fifth in the Romanian league, but Liverpool will not fancy the trip to Russia to face Zenit in February.
Bayer Leverkusen v Benfica appears an evenly matched tie between sides with fine European pedigree as does Borussia Moenchengladbach against Lazio.
The winners of the Inter v Cluj tie will play either Tottenham Hotspur or Olympique Lyon in the last 16. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who joined from Lyon this season, will look forward to the last-32 tie against his old team mates.
“It was destiny, it will be certainly very emotional for him,” said Lyon manager Remi Garde, who used to play for Tottenham’s London rivals Arsenal.
“It will not be easy. Tottenham seem to be improving by steps and I think Hugo has played a part in that because he has brought a lot of stability.”
The first legs of the last-32 ties will be played on Feb. 14 with the return fixtures a week later.