Liverpool are embarking on their first Europa League campaign since reaching the final in 2016, but how good are the sides they’ll be coming up against in the group stage?
The Reds were placed in Group E alongside LASK, Toulouse and Union SG at UEFA’s draw in Monaco at the start of September.
Jurgen Klopp will hope it is smooth sailing into the round of 16. Should Liverpool top the group, they would bypass the last 32 stage.
Trips to Austria, France and Belgium await for the Reds, but what can fans expect from the six group phase encounters?
Here’s a quick guide to the teams we will face in this season’s Europa League before Christmas.
Manager: Thomas Sageder
Key players: Robert Zulj (captain and top scorer), Andres Andrade (centre-back), Florian Flecker (right midfielder)
Form this season: 3rd in Austrian Bundesliga; 14 points from 7 games; 4 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss
Last five matches: W-W-D-W-W
Liverpool kick off their European adventure with a trip to Austria to face LASK in what will be the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.
They finished third in the Austrian Bundesliga last season and secured their spot in Group E after beating Zrinjski Mostar over two legs in final qualifying round.
Five months separated the two legs due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Man United eventually progressing 7-1 on aggregate.
They then reached the round of 16 stage last season, too, and will expect to progress from the group given their status in pot two.
Fun fact: LASK have just one senior international playing for them, compared to Union SG’s six and Toulouse’s seven. That player is Andres Andrade who plays for Panama.
Manager: Carles Martinez
Key players: Zakaria Aboukhlal (right winger, top scorer this season), Rasmus Nicolaisen (centre-back), Vincent Sierro (midfielder and captain)
Form this season: 13th in Ligue 1; 6 points from 5 games; 1 win, 3 draws, 1 loss
Last five matches: D-D-L-D-W
Unlike LASK, Liverpool have played Toulouse before, having met in a Champions League qualifier back in 2007.
Rafa Benitez steered his side to a 5-0 aggregate win on that occasion, en route to a third semi-final in four years.
Toulouse finished 13th in Ligue 1 last season but secured their spot in Europe, thanks to a surprise success in the Coupe de France, thrashing Nantes 5-1 in the final.
Fun fact: Fans may remember the French side’s current president, Damien Comolli (pictured above), who worked at Liverpool as director of football between 2010 and 2012.
Manager: Alexander Blessin
Key players: Dennis Eckert (striker and top scorer), Christian Burgess (former Portsmouth centre-back), Anthony Moris (goalkeeper and captain)
Form this season: 9th in Belgian Pro League; 10 points from 6 games; 3 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses
Last five matches: L-D-W-W-L
— Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (@UnionStGilloise) September 1, 2023
Playing in European competition is something of a fairytale for Union SG, who were in the second tier of Belgian football just three years ago.
They returned to the Belgian Pro League after a 48-year hiatus in 2021/22 and cemented themselves in the top flight with a third-place finish last season.
Liverpool could have met them in last season’s Champions League, had Rangers not knocked Union SG out in the qualifying round before being drawn in Liverpool’s group.
The Belgian side reached the quarter-final of last season’s Europa League but it was former Red Xabi Alonso who put an end to their run, beating them while managing Bayer Leverkusen.
Fun fact: The meetings will be a family affair for Alexis Mac Allister and his brother, Kevin, who signed for Union SG this summer.