On the face of it, Thursday’s Champions League draw will be just like any other: a gathering of club suits for a glossy and unnecessarily long ceremony peppered with former stars of European football and stilted banter.
But there will be something unique about this year’s draw: it will be the last to follow the current 32-team, multi-group stage format before it is replaced by the controversial “Swiss model”, a single league comprising 36 sides, next season.
As ever, it will determine who England’s four representatives – Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United – must overcome to reach the knockout stage, and there could be some nasty surprises in store.
Being in Pot 1 of the draw usually confers an advantage but this year there is little to choose between it and Pot 2, whose teams boast more European Cups and more clubs in the top 20 of Deloitte’s Football Money League.
That could be bad news for holders City, in particular, while Newcastle have a potential nightmare scenario. Here, we assess the best and worst possible outcomes for the Premier League contingent from the Champions League draw.
City’s reward for finally lifting Europe’s top trophy last season is a place in Pot 1, meaning they are guaranteed to avoid Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League draw.
However, Pot 2 contains 14-time winners Real Madrid, the pick of a clutch of teams that also includes Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig.
Having signed smartly and started the season well, AC Milan are the team to avoid in Pot 3, while Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin look a dangerous prospect in Pot 4.
A kind draw would see City play Porto, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys or Antwerp.
Manchester United and Arsenal
Both United and Arsenal are in Pot 2 of the Champions League draw, meaning they face the same potential opponents but cannot be drawn with Real Madrid.
Their worst-case scenario from Pot 1 would probably be Harry Kane coming back to haunt his former suitors or rivals with new club Bayern.
They will also be anxious to avoid Milan in Pot 3 and Berlin in Pot 4, although a trip to the cauldron of Galatasaray would also hold little appeal. Fate may dictate that Arsenal get Real Sociedad, ensuring a trip hom to San Sebastian for manager Mikel Arteta.
In an ideal world, Feyenoord look the least daunting of the top seeds in the draw, while Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys or Antwerp are the weaker teams on paper in Pots 3 and 4.
Excitement around the Magpies’ return to the Champions League might be doused on Thursday afternoon given that, as a Pot 4 team, they could end up in a group with Bayern, Real Madrid and AC Milan – the three most successful teams in the competition’s history.
Other permutations include Barcelona-Inter-Shakhtar and PSG-Dortmund-Lazio. Either way, it is likely to be a tough prospect for Eddie Howe’s team, albeit one the Toon Army are sure to embrace enthusiastically.
If fortune favours Newcastle, they could get surprise Dutch champions Feyenoord, Porto – certainly no mugs but one of the weaker teams in Pot 2 – and Copenhagen.
Aside from the end of the Champions League’s eight-group era, there is another reason for football fans to pay extra attention to this season’s European.
Two extra spots in next year’s Swiss model format will go to the two countries with the highest club coefficient, as determined by their teams’ performances in the three Uefa club competitions.
Champions League draw: Essential info
When: Thursday 31 August 5pm UK time
Where: Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum
How to watch: Via Uefa website
Champions League draw pots
- Manchester City
- Bayern Munich
- Paris Saint-Germain
- Real Madrid
- Manchester United
- Inter Milan
- Borussia Dortmund
- Atletico Madrid
- RB Leipzig
- Shakhtar Donetsk
- AC Milan
- Red Star Belgrade
- PSV Eindhoven
- Real Sociedad
- Union Berlin
- Newcastle United
- Young Boys