ARSENAL and Manchester United face tougher Champions League draws than in previous years after governing body Uefa amended rules for Europe’s top club competition.
From next season the eight teams seeded for the group stage draw – and therefore shielded from other leading sides – will be comprised of the reigning champions and the winners of Europe’s seven top leagues: England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, Russia and Ukraine. That is a departure from the previous system, which ranked clubs on their Uefa coefficient – a figure derived from a team’s performance in Europe over the previous five campaigns.
Arsenal have been regulars among the top seeds, despite never winning the tournament and going without a domestic league title since 2004, due to their consistency in reaching the last 16 every year.
Although they did not qualify this season, United, too, are accustomed to being shielded from the biggest opponents, but like the Gunners face relegation to the second pot. Manchester City have been used to tough draws, having never made the top seeds due to their patchy record in Europe.
Chelsea will be seeded if, as expected, the Premier League’s runaway leaders clinch the title. As it stands, that would mean they avoid Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Benfica, Lyon, Zenit St Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev, plus whoever wins this year’s Champions League.
Real Madrid, who currently sit second in the Spanish top-flight, are at risk of dropping into the second pot. If one of the seven domestic title winners also lifts the trophy, the eighth seeded place goes to the Dutch champions.
The changes were mooted earlier this season, following claims that the previous system rewarded mediocrity, and confirmed in Uefa’s new rulebook for next season’s European competition.