x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Europa League: Into the unknown for Atletico Madrid

Champions will need to do their homework ahead of ties against unkown opposition.

Atletico Madrid, the reigning Europa League champions, will face Hapoel Tel Aviv, Viktoria Plzen and Portuguese newcomers Academica Coimbra in the group stages of this season's competition following yesterday's draw.

Enrique Cerezo, the Atletico president, said: "We have never played any of these teams. We could have had tougher rivals but we have these, and we will fight to be champions of the group."

Athletic Bilbao, last season's finalists, face Lyon, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Kiryat Shmona in another of the 12 groups that comprise the opening stage of Uefa's secondary European club competition.

Lyon, the French Ligue 1 side, are in the competition for the first time since it evolved from the Uefa Cup in 2009, having taken part in the Champions League for the past 13 seasons.

Jean-Michel Aulas, the Lyon president said: "Of course we would rather be in the other competition but it would be a major honour to win this title and that is what we are going to try to do."

Tottenham Hotspur, who finished fourth in the English Premier League last season but were denied a Champions League spot when Chelsea won that competition spot, were grouped with Panathinaikos, Lazio and Maribor.

Five-times European champions Liverpool face Udinese, who were eliminated from the Champions League play-offs on Tuesday and Young Boys as well as the wealthy Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.

The other Premier League side competing, Newcastle United, are in Group D with Bordeaux, Brugges and Maritimo.

This season's competition has five former European champions, including Marseille, who face opposition from Fenerbahce of Turkey, Borussia Moenchengladbach of Germany as well as AEL Limassol of Cyprus.

Elie Baup, the French side's coach, said: "Even if it's not the Champions League, this is a high level European competition."