Cristiano Ronaldo might face old club Manchester United in this season's Champions League
Europe’s leading lights are set to find out who they will play in the Champions League group stage on Thursday, with the draw set to take place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco (8pm UAE time).
Wednesday saw the last round of qualifiers for the group stages completed, with Benfica, AEK Athens, Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, PSV Eindhoven, and BSC Young Boys joining the teams who had qualified directly for the group stages.
Last year’s winners, Real Madrid, and Europa League champions Atletico Madrid took their place in Pot 1 alongside the league champions of the six top-ranked nations in UEFA’s ranking coefficient, with the other teams being seeded based on their historical coefficient.
Teams from the same country cannot be drawn against each other.
Here’s a look at the possible draw scenarios.
POT 1: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG, Lokomotiv Moscow
POT 2: Tottenham, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Roma, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica
POT 3: Liverpool, Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, CSKA Moscow, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia
POT 4: Hoffenheim, Inter Milan, Galatasaray, Club Brugge, Viktoria Plzen, BSC Young Boys, AEK Athens, Red Star Belgrade
Benfica securing qualification for the group stages meant Liverpool were knocked down to Pot 3, a turn of events that will have pleased none of the teams in Pot 1 (barring Manchester City) nor Liverpool themselves who now will face a European giant.
Given that Pot 2 is also full of such strong teams, whichever group the Reds land in is likely to have two other big names. The Spanish teams in Pot 1 could have a particularly hard time of it, as they could play Jurgen Klopp’s men plus any of the non-English teams from Pot 2, with a rematch of last season’s final between Madrid and Liverpool a distinct possibility.
Potential Group of Death scenarios also include Manchester United or Tottenham being drawn with either Bayern Munich or PSG, plus Valencia and Inter Milan – once managed by Jose Mourinho. Speaking of which, there’s also the possibility of the United manager facing another former club, Real Madrid, or ex-United star Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford with Juventus.
United could also be drawn with Red Star Belgrade, a tie that would be infused with history. This season marks the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, when United’s team suffered a tragic plane crash while returning from a European Cup quarter-final tie against Red Star in 1958.
Elsewhere, Gareth Bale missed both of Madrid’s games against Tottenham in the group stages of last season through injury, preventing a return to the club where he was once a hero. However, the match-up could be repeated this season.
The group stage will begin on September 18, and end on December 12, with the knockout stages beginning on February 12 and the final due to be played on June 1, at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.