LONDON — Traditional European heavyweights Chelsea and Liverpool headline a quartet of English clubs harbouring Europa League dreams as the round of 32 gets underway today.
Two-time champions Tottenham also join Newcastle among the Premier League hopefuls seeking to make their mark in the competition’s knockout phase.
Defending European champions Chelsea infamously made history when they became the first Champions League title-holders to exit the competition in the group stage, but the Blues are now aiming to enter the record books in a far more positive light.
The Londoners travel to Sparta Prague today to face a Czech team playing their first competitive fixture since the winter break.
Rafael Benitez’s stuttering side have won just once in five outings — a 4-1 pasting of strugglers Wigan on Saturday — but Sparta goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik conceded the Czech outfit still have a monumental challenge on their hands.
Liverpool’s quest for a record fourth title takes them to Saint Petersburg for a first-leg tie against double defending Russian Premier League champions Zenit.
Meanwhile, Tottenham host Ligue 1 title challengers Lyon at White Hart Lane with Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris set to face his former teammates for the first time since his August departure.
Buoyed by their latest French recruits, Newcastle go into their clash with Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv at St James’ Park.