Always the little sister, the Europa League draw for the first knockout stage (or the round of 32) doesn’t quite have the lavishness or the controversy of the Champions League, but with names like Liverpool, Inter, Chelsea, Benfica, Ajax and Atletico Madrid, we’re in for quite a few interesting matches once the competition resumes.

Last year’s winners, Atletico Madrid, facing the harsh realities of losing to both Barcelona and Real Madrid in the same month once again do have somewhat of a difficult draw on their hands, facing Rubin Kazan of Russia. To be frank, it’s hard to describe any draw for any “superior” team being easy. Those in the Europa League are there for a reason, and the differences in quality between two sides in this competition, especially those who have qualified, are usually marginal to none.

Take for example Liverpool, who were drawn with Champions League dropouts Zenit. While the Russian side isn’t a very “together” team, their star power and individual ability make it quite a difficult draw for Brendan Rodgers, struggling to keep his team in the upper half of the table in the Premier League.

A team like Inter, who forgot what it’s like to play in this competition despite winning it several times in the past, gets a tough nut to crack in the form of Cluj, a counter attacking side with a lot of defensive problems, but still a dangerous team to face. Tottenham, possibly the strongest team from England alongside Chelsea, got drawn with Lyon, joint league leaders in France in what is possibly the most intriguing match of the draw.

The European champions, Chelsea? They’ve already declared they don’t really care for the Europa League. Beneath them, they say without actually uttering the words. Recipe for an early exit, and more pressure on Benitez. Sparta Prague do seem like a comfortable opponent to face, but with the complacency certain to pop its ugly head at some point, nothing is easy.

Team 1  Agg.Team 2  1st leg  2nd leg
BATE Borisov Belarus1Turkey Fenerbahçe14 February21 February
Internazionale Italy2Romania CFR Cluj14 February21 February
Levante Spain3Greece Olympiacos14 February21 February
Zenit St. Petersburg Russia4England Liverpool14 February21 February
Dynamo Kyiv Ukraine5France Bordeaux14 February21 February
Bayer Leverkusen Germany6Portugal Benfica14 February21 February
Newcastle United England7Ukraine Metalist Kharkiv14 February21 February
Stuttgart Germany8Belgium Genk14 February21 February
Atlético Madrid Spain9Russia Rubin Kazan14 February21 February
Ajax Netherlands10Romania Steaua București14 February21 February
Basel Switzerland11Ukraine Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk14 February21 February
Anzhi Makhachkala Russia12Germany Hannover 9614 February21 February
Sparta Prague Czech Republic13England Chelsea14 February21 February
Borussia Mönchengladbach Germany14Italy Lazio14 February21 February
Tottenham Hotspur England15France Lyon14 February21 February
Napoli Italy16Czech Republic Viktoria Plzeň14 February21 February
 Image: Source