Spurs, Liverpool get Italian tests
Tottenham and Liverpool were both handed Italian jobs after being paired with Lazio and Udinese respectively in the Europa League group-stage draw.
Spurs – denied a Champions League spot despite finishing fourth in the Barclays Premier League after Chelsea’s European Cup triumph – were placed in Group J, which also contained Greek club Panathinaikos and Maribor of Slovenia.
Three-time winners Liverpool will also face mega-rich Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala and Swiss side Young Boys in Group A.
They and Tottenham were both top seeds but were arguably handed tougher groups than Newcastle, who were seeded third ahead of their first European campaign for six years.
The Magpies were in Group D along with Bordeaux, Club Brugge and Maritimo.
None of the English sides have faced their group opponents before in a competitive match, but Tottenham’s trip to Lazio on November 22 could yet have added spice after Paul Gascoigne was promised an invitation to the game to celebrate the link he created between the two clubs.
Lazio general manager Maurizio Manzini revealed the former England star, 45, would be approached to attend the game at the Stadio Olimpico.
Gascoigne joined Lazio from Spurs in 1992 and almost immediately secured a place in their folklore – his first goal for the club was a last-gasp equaliser in the Rome derby.
Manzini said: "Tottenham is a team Lazio knows very well, a great team with great traditions and we are very familiar with White Hart Lane starting from the time we had Paul Gascoigne.
"There is always a corner of Tottenham in our hearts. He is a mythical figure for Lazio fans and very popular in general in Italy.
"I remember the Atlanta ultras, who had a reputation for being really tough, opened an enormous banner with a picture of a huge bottle of beer saying ‘This is for you Gazza’.
"I hope we will have the chance to see him in London and, for sure, we will invite him to the match in Rome."
Gascoigne has struggled to deal with alcohol problems since retirement but his agent said earlier this summer that he had embarked on a health drive.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitted his own side faced a tough task, saying: "The groups have been drawn and we have got a difficult group.
"It is another step forward for us. European football is brilliant for this club and we look forward to going further in the competition."
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, who watched the draw live on television with several of his players, was relieved to avoid a trip to eastern Europe.
"It’s a great draw in terms of the traveling element, which I was pleased about because they are all pretty accessible," he said.
"The competition is strong, as you would expect, but it could be worse, so we are pleased with it. The guys got excited with the draw, as hopefully our fans did watching it come in. It’s all new to us and we enjoyed it."