Champions League draw: group-by-group breakdown
The UEFA Champions League, which brings together top teams from domestic European soccer leagues for one continental mega-competition, is among the best annual events in all of sports.
Now, after Thursday night's draw to determine the competition's eight groups, the road to the 2016 Champions League Final in Milan begins to take shape.
Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo
European grandees against the nouveau riche, the return home that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wished for, plus a club in exile; Group A is not short of a stellar cast and sub-plots. The French champions and the 10-times winners, now led by Rafael Benítez, should progress but there is potential for the odd slip-up. Shakhtar Donetsk have coped admirably with relocating to Lviv during the Ukraine conflict but that was before losing Douglas Costa to Bayern and Luiz Adriano to Milan this summer. Malmo, as Celtic discovered to their cost, will be well organised for Zlatan’s homecoming.
Predicted qualifiers Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid
Opening fixtures 15 Sep PSG v Malmo; Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk
PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Wolfsburg
It was as though Manchester United had never been away when the draw began and the old accusations that they never have a difficult group followed. But then the Bundesliga runners-up Wolfsburg emerged and changed the complexion to a far more balanced group. Kevin De Bruyne will be a major loss to Wolfsburg should Manchester City finally buy the former Chelsea winger, although it is how PSV cope with the upheaval caused by Premier League riches that may well determine qualification. Phillip Cocu has lost Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum from the team that won the Dutch title so impressively last season.
Predicted qualifiers Manchester United and Wolfsburg
Opening fixtures 15 Sep PSV Eindhoven v Manchester United; Wolfsburg v CSKA Moscow
Benfica, Atlético Madrid, Galatasaray, Astana
A long journey into the unknown awaits those drawn alongside Astana, the first team from Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage, having beaten APOEL in the play-offs. Astana’s rise has been considerable – they were formed seven years ago – and that should serve as a warning against complacency to the Champions League regulars before they embark on a 10-hour flight – in Benfica’s case – to Kazakhstan. Galatasaray did not win a group game last season and despite Benfica’s turbulent summer – 12 players in, 10 out and the coach Jorge Jesus defecting across town to Sporting – they and Atlético should prove too strong.
Predicted qualifiers Atlético Madrid and Benfica
Opening round of fixtures 15 Sep Galatasaray v Atlético Madrid; Benfica v Astana
Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach
“Happy with that,” tweeted Vincent Kompany, convincing absolutely no one after Manchester City’s residence in the cliched ’Group of Death’ continued for another year. The champions of Italy, the Europa League holders and the third strongest team in Germany present another significant obstacle to City’s ambitions on the European stage, although painful experience must pay dividends one day. Juventus have lost several key players since giving Barcelona a genuine fright in last season’s final but City target Paul Pogba remains, for now. Sevilla sold Carlos Bacca but hope Ciro Immobile and Yevhen Konoplyanka will compensate. An open group.
Predicted qualifiers Manchester City and Juventus
Opening round of fixtures 15 Sep Manchester City v Juventus; Sevilla v Borussia Mönchengladbach
Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, Bate Borisov
The reigning champions were fittingly the first club drawn and will have few qualms over what followed. If Luis Enrique’s team have a formidable rival in the way of their hopes of becoming the first club to retain the Champions League, it is not in this group. Barcelona beat the champions of Belarus 4-0 and 5-0 in 2011 and Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 in 2012 when Lionel Messi scored five. Their former midfielder and ex-Arsenal man Aleksandr Hleb joined BATE Borisov this summer and it is Roma who look best equipped to join the holders in the last 16.
Predicted qualifiers Barcelona and Roma
Opening round of fixtures 16 Sep Bayer Leverkusen v Bate Borisov; Roma v Barcelona
Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiakos, Dinamo Zagreb
Arsène Wenger had criticised the changes to this season’s draw, arguing the seeding system was rendered “useless” by the roll call of champions in pot one, although he could have few complaints with the outcome. Of course Arsenal could have landed an easier champion than Bayern Munich, their last-16 conquerors in 2014, but Olympiakos and the Croatian champions should not present a barrier to a top-two finish. Whether Olympiakos should even be in the draw is open to conjecture with a match-fixing investigation pending against the Greek club.
Predicted qualifiers Bayern Munich and Arsenal
Opening round of fixtures 16 Sep Olympiakos v Bayern Munich; Dinamo Zagreb v Arsenal
Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Predicted qualifiers Chelsea and Porto
Opening round of fixtures 16 Sep Dynamo Kyiv v Porto; Chelsea v Maccabi Tel Aviv
Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon, Gent
The former Manchester City striker Álvaro Negredo scored the decisive goal in Valencia’s play-off win over Monaco and their reward is a place in one of the more competitive groups. First-time qualifiers Gent, the surprise Belgium champions, and an emerging Lyon team complete the threat to Zenit St Petersburg, who, after plenty of investment and promises, have yet to make a genuine impact on the Champions League. The experience and quality within André Villas-Boas’s side should give them the edge, however.
Predicted qualifiers Zenit St Petersburg and Lyon
Opening round of fixtures 16 Sep Valencia v Zenit St Petersburg; Gent v Lyon