Liverpool to play Sparta Prague in Europa League round of 16. Leverkusen gets Qarabag

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Liverpool will play at Sparta Prague in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16 on March 7, three days before a huge Premier League match against Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp's team learned its opponent in Friday's draw made at UEFA headquarters. Liverpool and the other seven teams that topped their groups will host the second-leg matches a week after their openers away from home.

Avoiding a long round-trip journey to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in midweek will be a relief for Liverpool, which hosts City on Sunday, March 10. Instead, Bayer Leverkusen is paired with Qarabag.

At this stage, teams from the same national association cannot meet.

The Europa League final is on May 22 in Dublin.

ALONSO'S TRAVELS

The eight group-stage winners qualified directly for the round of 16. The eight group-stage runners-up played the eight third-place teams from the Champions League group stage in the playoffs to get into Friday's draw.

Bundesliga leader Leverkusen faces Qarabag in the round of 16 after the two teams also met in the group stage — Leverkusen winning 5-1 at home and 1-0 in Baku. Qarabag bagged a stoppage-time goal in extra time Thursday against Braga to reach the round of 16 in a European competition for the first time.

Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso is one of Europe's most in-demand strategists with upcoming vacancies at Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

West Ham beat Freiburg home and away in the group stage. The two teams will meet again in the last 16.

Roma advanced Thursday with a penalty shootout victory over Feyenoord in their playoff, and next faces Brighton.

ROUND-OF-16 DRAW

The round-of-16 matchups (group winners listed first, playing away on March 7):

Atalanta vs. Sporting

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Qarabag

Brighton vs. Roma

Liverpool vs. Sparta Prague

Rangers vs. Benfica

Slavia Prague vs. AC Milan

Villarreal vs. Marseille

West Ham vs. Freiburg

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

The Associated Press