The Daily Mirror has delved into next season’s Europa League competition with a preview of how the group stage draw is likely to play out.
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Last season, the competition’s first round consisted of twelve groups of four teams, with the top two advancing from each. Those 24 sides are then joined in the first knockout round by the eight Champions League dropouts – which are the sides that finish in third place in their respective groups, as we did in our last campaign.
A total of 48 teams play in the group stage: 16 teams which enter in this stage, the 22 winners of the play-off round, and the 10 losers of the final Champions League qualifying round. These teams will be divided into four seeded pots.
Despite the draw itself not taking place until August 28, the Mirror believe that we’re already near-certainties to be included in pot two – meaning that we’d be facing one of the tournament’s seeded sides.
Seven of these top seeds have already been determined. These are Schalke, Napoli, Villarreal, Marseille, Braga, Fiorentina, and last season’s runners-up, Dnipro.
Of these seven potential opponents, a trip to Portugal is perhaps the most appealing, while a double-header against the Ukrainian giants would be far less welcome.
Athletic Bilbao, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon, CSKA Moscow and Lazio are in line to take the remaining places in pot one, although there are a complicated set of circumstances that could see the Reds take one of these spots.
According to the Mirror, for that to happen, we need three of the following five events to occur:
1) Borussia Dortmund to lose in Europa League qualifiers.
2) Athletic Bilbao to lose in Europa League qualifiers.
3) Sporting Lisbon join the Champions League at the final qualifying round stage. If they are beaten, they would drop straight into the Europa League group stages. If they move up to a seeded position in the Champions League play-off draw and then win, they would send a lower-ranked team into the Europa League.
4) CSKA could lose in both the Champions League third round and the Europa League play-off. Failing that. the same scenario as the above with Sporting.
5) The only way Lazio can help Liverpool is if they win in the Champions League play-off as a seeded team. But the chance of them being seeded is very remote.