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Dec 20, 2012

Liverpool land Zenit

Liverpool have been drawn against Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg in the last-32 of the Europa League, while deposed European champions Chelsea will play Sparta Prague after dropping out of the Champions League.

• Blog: Zenit tough, not impossible
• Blog: Chelsea avoid heavyweights
• Blog: Newcastle's 4,000 mile trip

For Liverpool, that means a return to his former club for defender Martin Skrtel; while the same is true for Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. However, the spending power of Zenit (they brought in Hulk and Axel Witsel for a combined €80 million) means that the Reds have the tougher task.

Tottenham, meanwhile, will meet Olympique Lyonnais for the right to progress to the last 16 - meaning a return for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris - as Newcastle also make travel arrangements for Eastern Europe, after they were picked out against Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv in Thursday's draw.

And Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas believes the Europa League will be given the respect it deserves following an interesting draw.

"Lyon is a tremendous tie for us in the sense that it gives this country, along with the Liverpool game, the chance to see wonderful Europa League fixtures being played,'' Villas-Boas told reporters.

"Zenit-Liverpool and Tottenham-Lyon should both be considered like Champions League fixtures so I think this is something important for the competition, for how it's seen in this country.

"The fact that we play Lyon, who are used to being in the Champions League and used to winning trophies, it's an important reference for us.

"If we want to set our targets for Champions League qualification, this is the kind of team we will face, teams with a winning mentality, full of quality players. In that sense I think it's excellent for the publicity of the competition in this country.''

Elsewhere, defending champions Atletico Madrid will meet Rubin Kazan. Ajax, who are bidding to reach a home final in Amsterdam, will take on Romanian side Steaua Bucharest.

While Spurs have the shortest distance to travel of the four Premier League sides still in the competition for the away leg of their tie, the task does not appear set to get any easier for Villas-Boas's men - with Italian side Inter Milan potentially lying in wait if both sides can progress from their respective draws into the last 16.

Chelsea, meanwhile, could meet Ajax for a place in the quarter-finals - with Newcastle potentially travelling to meet Anzhi Makhachkala and Liverpool on course to play Basel, the team that knocked Manchester United out of last season's Champions League at the group stage.

Round of 32: February 14 and 21
Round of 16: March 7 and 14

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