European giants including Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus will find out their Champions League groups on Thursday.
The final qualifying rounds concluded on Wednesday, with Benfica, PSV and Red Star Belgrade booking their place at Europe’s top table.
As always the draw will be complicated and convoluted, but UEFA has confirmed the four pots that will make up the group stage.
Benfica’s qualification means Liverpool have landed in pot three despite reaching the final last season, losing to Real Madrid after a pair of Loris Karius errors.
Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Lokomotiv
The top pot consists of Champions League holders Real Madrid, Europa League winners Atletico Madrid and the champions of each of Europe’s top six leagues. This explains why Russian Premier League side Lokomotiv are included. With Madrid and Juventus in the same pot, Cristiano Ronaldo cannot come up against the LaLiga giants in the group stage of his first European campaign for the Bianconeri. Neither can Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar return to Camp Nou to face Barcelona at this stage.
Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Napoli, Tottenham, Roma
No club can be drawn against a team from their own country at this stage, so there will be no local derby between Manchester City and Manchester United, for example. United’s place in pot two does leave Jose Mourinho’s men likely to face one of the elite clubs in the group stage, though. Last season’s semi-finalists Roma are also in pot two, while fellow Serie A side Napoli boast Carlo Ancelotti, a three-time winner of the competition, as their new coach. Shakhtar cannot be paired in the same group as Lokomotiv as UEFA has ruled teams from Russia and Ukraine must be kept apart.
Liverpool, Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, Ajax, CSKA, PSV, Valencia
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are undoubtedly the team to avoid from pot three, although there are plenty of other threats for the giants. Dutch teams PSV and Ajax should be competitive, while Schalke were runners-up in the Bundesliga to Bayern Munich last term. Valencia have made eye-catching signings including Goncalo Guedes from PSG and Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi – they will be dangerous. And Monaco may have lost even more of their star names, with Thomas Lemar and Fabinho the latest to depart, but they reached the semi-finals in 2016-17 under Leonardo Jardim.
Viktoria Plzen, Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Young Boys, Inter, Hoffenheim, Red Star Belgrade, AEK Athens
The bottom pot can usually be relied upon to provide intrigue and this year is no different with the return of Inter to the Champions League. Galatasaray is the cliched ‘tough place to go’ in the Champions League, while Swiss Super League side Young Boys make their debut in the competition. Hoffenheim are also newcomers to the Champions League, the Bundesliga outfit falling to Liverpool in the play-off round last term, while Red Star Belgrade – European Cup winners in 1990-91 – will get their first taste of Champions League action too.
GROUP OF DEATH
Huge clubs lurk in every pot, so there is every chance of a ‘group of death’ scenario unfolding when the draw is made.
For example, holders Real Madrid could conceivably have to take on Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Inter just to make it through to the knockout rounds.
That would be a nightmare scenario for the Nerazzurri on their first appearance in the group stage of the Champions League since 2011-12.
Liverpool – and everyone else outside of the top two pots – will likely have their fingers crossed to be paired with Lokomotiv, who are pot one’s weakest side on paper by a distance.
But Klopp’s men could be forced to take on Barcelona, Roma and Hoffenheim, which could give the German a return to his home country at least.
An example of a weaker group could be: Lokomotiv, Porto, PSV and Club Brugge.
But clubs will just have to wait for the luck of the draw, which is set to begin at 17.00 BST on Thursday.