Play-off banana skins await Reds and Napoli

PARIS • Liverpool have been handed a tricky Champions League play-off tie after being drawn against Hoffenheim, the team who finished fourth in the German Bundesliga last season.

The English football club are competing in European football's premier competition for only the second time in eight seasons after finishing fourth in the Premier League last term.

It is arguably the toughest draw they could have faced and is the glamour tie of the play-off round, alongside Napoli versus Nice.

The Reds will start as favourites, but Hoffenheim, under the stewardship of Julian Nagelsmann, their 30-year-old coach, will provide a tough route to the group stage.

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Hoffenheim had the second-best defensive record in the Bundesliga and only champions Bayern Munich suffered fewer defeats.

It is a fixture that will take Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp back to his homeland for the first leg on Aug 15 with the return at Anfield a week later, while forward Roberto Firmino will face his former club for the first time since his £29 million (S$51 million) move two seasons ago.

Napoli, who came third in the Italian Serie A last season, were handed a difficult draw against Nice, third in France's Ligue 1 last season and victors against Ajax in the third qualifying round.

  • CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLAY-OFF DRAW

  • Qarabag (Aze) v FC Copenhagen (Den)

    APOEL (Cyp) v Slavia Prague (Cze)

    Olympiakos (Gre) v Rijeka (Cro)

    Celtic (Sco) v Astana (Kaz)

    Hapoel (Isr) v Maribor (Slo)

    Istanbul (Tur) v Sevilla (Esp)

    Young Boys (Sui) v CSKA Moscow (Rus)

    Napoli (Ita) v Nice (Fra)

    Hoffenheim (Ger) v Liverpool (Eng)

    Sporting (Por) v FCSB (Rom)

  • First leg: Aug 15/16

    Second leg: Aug 22/23

Spain's Sevilla have been drawn against last season's Turkish league runners-up Istanbul Basaksehir, who boast the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy, and eliminated Belgium's Club Brugge in the third qualifying round.

In the Europa League, Merseyside rivals Everton will play Hajduk Split in the play-off round.

Ronald Koeman's team were seeded for the draw after overcoming Slovakia's Ruzomberok 2-0 on aggregate in the previous round.

Everton, in European competition for the first time in three years, were not at their best in either leg against Ruzomberok.

Leighton Baines' deflected shot gave them a 1-0 home win before Dominic Calvert-Lewin's goal on Thursday provided the same scoreline in the away leg.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'Play-off banana skins await Reds and Napoli'. Print Edition | Subscribe