On Thursday, the groups for the Champions League were drawn. There are always some story lines to any season, and to any draw, and there were certainly some for this one. First timer’s Astana the first team from Kazakhstan were eager to see their opponents. They ended up in Group C, squaring off against Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray. The Europa League champion was granted entry into the Champions League Group Stage as well. That means there is a Spanish team in 5/8 groups this year, with Sevilla winning Europa last year.
The biggest Draw story, though, was the new way that UEFA allocated the pots, pre-draw. The top 8 domestic champions were slotted into Pot 1, regardless of club coefficient. This year, that meant teams like PSV Eindhoven, Zenit and Juventus were in Pot 1, where they would have been in Pot 2, or even Pot 3 in PSV’s case. This hoped to make winning a domestic league more important, and potentially diversify the knockout stage with teams in lesser associations getting a leg up. There is still definitely a team that had the best, most advantageous draw, and on the opposite end of the perspective, a Group of Death.
It seems natural to assume that the team from Pot 2 that drew PSV would be the greatest beneficiary of the new system, and while that’s the case, it’s probably not just Manchester United (the team that meets those criteria) that really benefits. Not only is PSV weak, but so too is CSKA Moscow, the team from Pot 3. Wolfsburg, a German team from Pot 4 also seems to benefit from this new system. Manchester United is the best team that would have been in Group 2 regardless of how this draw had played out, so there was no misfortune in being in Group 2. Wolfsburg hasn’t spent much time playing in Europe, so they were going to be slotted into Pot 4, and ended up dodging any serious bullets. They might win the group.
On the other hand, there are some tough groups still as well. Which is the toughest? In my opinion, that honor goes to Group 4. The aforementioned Sevilla had the misfortune of being paired with last season’s runner up, Juventus from Italy. From Pot 2, Group D was given Machester City, who won the EPL as recently as 2 years ago, and many observers expected to see make a bigger impact internationally over the last few years. Wrapping things up in Borussia Monchengladbach, one of the two German teams that somehow have a coefficient worthy of Pot 4. Monchengladbach was recently promoted back into Die Bundesliga, but finished 3rd last season.
The games start in 2 1/2 weeks. The first round of competition begins on the 15th with Groups A-D. Where will this year’s Champion come from?