Liverpool FC midfield player Xabi Alonso has revealed his relief at avoiding city rivals Everton FC in the draw for the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.
The reigning champions will play either SK Tirana or PFC CSKA Sofia, while Everton face a daunting match against Spanish side Villarreal CF. Alonso admits Liverpool got lucky, and sympathises with his Merseyside rivals over the tough hand they have been dealt. "I am very relieved that we avoided Everton," he told uefa.com. "They have a good team and I would not have wanted to face them or my fellow Spaniard Mikel Arteta so early on in the season.
"I actually feel sorry for Everton in drawing Villarreal," added the 23-year-old. "It is going to be very difficult for them to go through now because they are a very strong Spanish team, with a lot of experience. I know that Villarreal's players are very confident that they will do great work in the Champions League this season.
Man to watch
"The best team will prevail in that tie, but from Everton's point of view I think they need to take close care of Juan Román Riquelme. If he is allowed to play with freedom, Villarreal will create many opportunities to score. And with players like Diego Forlán and José Mari in their side, you can't afford to give them chances. Stopping Riquelme is going to be the key to success for Everton."
Unlike Everton, before Liverpool can begin to focus on their third qualifying round tie, they must first get past visiting FBK Kaunas tonight. The Premiership side lead the Lithuanian title-holders 3-1 after the first leg of their second qualifying round match, and are overwhelming favourites to progress.
However, Alonso has warned his team-mates not to take victory for granted. He said: "My biggest fear is that we will relax too much mentally because of the lead we hold. Also, in Champions League terms this is not a typical game for Liverpool, so it's important that we focus hard on our concentration levels.
"I hope that Kaunas aren't capable of scoring twice at Anfield but you must never take matters for granted in football," he added. "That's why we have to be serious from the first kick, keep the ball and try to grab an early goal. If we manage to do that, we shouldn't have too many problems.
"We are playing at home with a two-goal advantage, so I am totally confident that we'll beat them - but we have to be prudent.
From the start we must take the match seriously and take control of things and if we play to our potential, I'm confident we will win the second leg handsomely."
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