Some heavyweight matchups could be set up in a new-look draw for the Champions League group stage in Monaco on Thursday. Rather than the top eight seeds being decided, as remains the case with the rest of the seeding pots, on performances in European competitions over the past five seasons, they will now go to the champions of the top-performing leagues, along with the Champions League holders.
It means the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United could lie in wait for top seeds including holders Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, although teams cannot face off with a rival from the same league. A draw of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Roma and Wolfsburg is a possibility. Equally, those clubs in the second pot could hope to be paired in a group with PSV Eindhoven -- moved up because Barcelona are both Champions League and La Liga holders -- Olympiakos and group stage debutantes Malmo.
There will be another novelty about Thursday’s draw. Sevilla’s triumph in the Europa League last season, coupled with Valencia’s narrow victory over Monaco in the playoffs means Spain becomes the first country to have five representatives in the group stage. And all will fancy their chances of a deep run in the competition.
Barcelona and Real Madrid will certainly be confident of getting out of the group stage, having done so for the last 11 and 19 consecutive seasons, respectively. Arsenal are also well versed with progressing from the first round, having made the last 16 for the last 15 seasons.
Manchester United were another regular member of the competition’s latter stages before they missed out on the competition for the first time in 19 seasons last year. But an emphatic playoff victory over Club Brugge means the Premier League giants are back among Europe’s elite. Along with returning faces, there will also be some group stage newcomers. As well as Malmo, who beat Celtic in the playoffs, German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach, European champions in 1977, will be making their first appearance in the modern incarnation of the tournament. Perhaps the biggest story, though, is Astana, who have not only reached the Champions League proper for the first time, but become the first team ever from Kazakhstan to do so.
The 32 clubs will be drawn from four pots of eight teams. Other than clubs from the same league being unable to be drawn together, the only other restriction is that sides from Russia and Ukraine will be separated due to the ongoing conflict in the region.
Pot 1: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Zenit St Petersburg, PSV Eindhoven
Pot 2: Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Porto, Arsenal, Manchester United, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Manchester City
Pot 3: Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, Lyon, Dynamo Kiev, Olympiakos, CSKA Moscow, Galatasaray, Roma
Pot 4: Bate Borisov, Borussia Mönchengladbach , Wolfsburg, Dinamo Zagreb, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Gent, Malmo, Astana
Draw time: 11:45 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1