London: The race to become the first club to qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League hots up on Thursday when Europe`s secondary competition restarts with 32 teams chasing glory in Warsaw in May.
UEFA`s decision to reward the winners with a place in at least the playoffs for next season`s Champions League should spice up the knockout stage, which includes the eight teams who have dropped down from Europe`s top tier.
There are six former European champions taking part with two of them -- Celtic and Inter Milan -- facing each other with the opening leg in Glasgow on Thursday before the return on Feb. 26.
Celtic famously became the first British team to be crowned European champions when they beat Inter 2-1 in Lisbon in 1967 but the Scottish champions have had a miserable time against Italian sides more recently and are without a win in seven games with defeats in their last four.
Liverpool, European champions five times, will also renew acquaintance with an old foe in Turkish side Besiktas, who have painful memories of their last visit to Anfield in November 2007 when they were beaten 8-0, a record defeat since the Champions League was reformatted in 1992.
Liverpool will be all too aware of the danger posed by Besiktas striker Demba Ba, who has five Europa League goals this season.
Ba, with Chelsea last April, took advantage of Steven Gerrard`s famous slip on the Anfield turf to score the opening goal in a 2-0 win that effectively cost Liverpool the chance of a first English title for 24 years.
Gerrard, currently out with a hamstring injury, is the only survivor from Liverpool`s 8-0 win and also from their last European title success in 2005.
He would love nothing more to end his last season at the club before moving to the MLS by winning another European trophy.
Rafa Benitez, who led Liverpool to that success a decade ago, is seeking to become only the second man after Giovanni Trapattoni to win the trophy for a third time after victories with Valencia in 2004 and Chelsea in 2013.
His Napoli side take on Trabzonspor with the first leg in Turkey on Thursday.
Three times winners Sevilla face Borussia Moenchengldbach, who won the trophy twice in the 1970s and are unbeaten in eight European fixtures this season.