Xabi: Tough tie for Reds whoever it is

The final group games were played in the Champions League last night meaning the identities of all 16 teams through to the knockout stages are now known. Liverpool had already confirmed first place in their group before this week’s games, but now the three other English teams have joined them in that post of group winners. That means Liverpool can be drawn against any of the second-placed teams, with the exception of Group C runners-up PSV Eindhoven.

The eight group winners were Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Valencia, Lyon, Manchester United, Arsenal and AC Milan. That leaves some quite tough sides in second place.

The second-placed teams were Barcelona, Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Roma, Real Madrid, Celtic, Porto and Lille.

The draw will be made at 11am on Friday of next week at UEFA’s headquarters. The ties themselves aren’t actually to be played until 20/21 February and 6/7 March. The first-placed teams get to play the second leg at home.

Reds midfielder Xabi Alonso isn’t going to expect anything less than a difficult tie whoever Liverpool get in the draw: “We know whoever we get in the next round will be really tough but it will also be exciting. You can see the teams who will be involved and how strong those who finished in second are. We'll have to be ready.”

Some might feel that the two potential Spanish opponents would be the most difficult to play against, but Xabi says that although they’ll be tough, Liverpool are capable of winning: “Real or Barcelona could be the next game, but we've played a few games in Spain in the last few years and always won there, so if we meet either of those clubs we'll know it will be a massive game for the club, but we'll see.”

In some ways, according to Xabi, playing against the teams seen as most difficult could be to Liverpool’s advantage: “When we won in 2005, we were never favourites in any game we played, and depending on the draw that maybe the case again, which could suit us. It was definitely good the year we won it when everyone thought we would lose to Juve and then Chelsea and Milan. I hope that would be a good omen for us. I would prefer to avoid Barcelona at this stage and maybe leave them until the semi-final or final. But you only have to look at the teams we could get to realise it is going to be very tough, no matter what.”

Xabi doesn’t want any complacency to come from the team if they are drawn against one of the “lesser” teams in the next round: “We are confident in ourselves, but we have to be careful after what happened last season. We thought we had landed an easy draw against Benfica, but it didn't turn out that way.”

He went on: “We showed, two seasons ago, that we can be a match for anyone. We had Juventus in the quarter-finals and Chelsea in the semis and still got through. You always have to beat the best to win this competition, so we must make sure we are ready for the challenge.”

Manager Rafael Benítez also says the draw will be tough, irrespective of who is drawn out as our opposition: “It will be difficult now because they are all top teams. Last season we drew Benfica and everyone said it would be easy, but we lost.”