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Europa League preview: Chelsea to debut, Liverpool visit Zenit

European champions Chelsea headline the eight Champions League teams entering the Europa League knockout stage on Thursday.

European champions Chelsea headline the eight Champions League teams entering the Europa League knockout stage on Thursday.




Chelsea bowed out of the Champions League behind Juventus
and Shakhtar Donetsk, but qualified for the Europa League round of 32 by
finishing third in Group E.

Other Champions League sides joining the Europa League
include Ajax, Zenit St Petersburg, Dynamo Kiev and Benfica.

BATE Borisov, Olympiacos and CFR Cluj, who stunned
Manchester United at Old Trafford in the group stage, also moved from the
Champions League to the secondary competition.

Of the last 32, Chelsea are the only club who have never
previously competed in the Europa League.

With teams to meet over two legs in the knockout stage,
Chelsea open their campaign at Sparta Prague.

Prague have not played a competitive match since December 6
due to their winter break, but boast a superb home record in European

Prague are unbeaten in their past 11 European games at Letna
Stadium, having accounted for the likes of Athletic Bilbao and Palermo in the

Chelsea, on the other hand, have won just one of their past
five matches in all competitions, heaping further pressure on interim manager Rafael

Elsewhere, Ajax take on Steaua Bucharest, hoping to improve
on their recent European home record in their fifth consecutive appearance in
the last 32.

Ajax have lost four of their past five European home
matches, while Steaua are undefeated in five European away games this season.

Zenit are at home to Liverpool, who are aiming to win the title
for a record fourth time.

Liverpool, who tasted UEFA Cup success in 1973, 1976 and 2001,
have their sights set on Europa League glory following elimination from the
English FA Cup and League Cup.

Kiev are up against Bordeaux, while Benfica travel to Bayer
Leverkusen and BATE entertain Fenerbahce.

Olympiacos face Levante away from home, while Cluj tackle
Inter Milan, who are also seeking a record fourth title.

In other matches, Tottenham Hotspur welcome Lyon, with goalkeeper
Hugo Lloris set to face his former side for the first time.

Metalist take on Newcastle United, who are unbeaten in 11
European home games since a loss in the 2005 UEFA Intertoto Cup.

Defending champions Atletico Madrid continue their bid for a
third title in four seasons at home to Rubin Kazan.

Meanwhile, Anzhi Makhachkala host Hannover, while Genk make
the short journey to Stuttgart and Viktoria Plzen face an uphill battle against

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are away to the Basel, while Borussia
Moenchengladbach entertain Lazio, who have the equal-best defence in the

Thu 14 Feb, 2013
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