The UEFA Champions League is all set for its 2017-18 launch after this year’s 32 participants were placed into eight groups at Thursday’s draw. The draw offered up all kinds of tasty matchups, from PSG-Bayern Munich to Barcelona-Juventus. The full results are here, and below.
But as is the case with any draw, it was far more kind to some clubs than others. A few were gifted straightforward paths to the knockout round. There is no true “Group of Death” – no group with four big names who would all expect to advance – but there are certainly some winners, and, oh yes, there are absolutely some losers.
First, the clubs who came away from the draw with radiant smiles:
Liverpool — Placed in Pot 3 because of its lack of recent Champions League success, Liverpool had to balance optimism and pessimism heading into the draw. There were several nightmare scenarios that would have doomed the Reds to an early exit. Fortunately, none of those scenarios materialized. Liverpool scored the grand prize, a date with Pot 1 outlier Spartak Moscow. In fact, Jurgen Klopp’s side got arguably the weakest team out of Pot 1 and Pot 4 (NK Maribor). Liverpool and Sevilla were the big winners of Thursday.
Manchester United — United snuck into the Champions League, and into Pot 2, via its Europa League triumph last May. It was further rewarded on Thursday with a relatively tame group. Benfica is no easy out, and CSKA Moscow might have been the most dangerous team from Pot 4, so this isn’t a walk in the park for United. But the Red Devils avoided the big boys from Pots 1 and 3, and they’ll be the favorites to top Group A.
RB Leipzig — Leipzig, as a Champions League debutant, had to be fearing the worst heading into Thursday. But it came out of the draw with a fairly amenable group: Monaco out of Pot 1, Porto out of Pot 2, and Besiktas out of Pot 3. This isn’t to say last year’s Bundesliga runner-up should cruise to the knockout round, but things could be worse – a lot worse.
Viewers — The draw gave us almost everything we could have asked for. It gave us the high-profile clashes: Bayern Munich-PSG, Barcelona-Juventus, Chelsea-Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid-Borussia Dortmund, and so on. But it also gave us unheralded matchups like Manchester City-Napoli that should be wildly entertaining. And it gave us groups such Group G, where any of the four teams could realistically advance. Oh, and the schadenfreude derived from Tottenham’s inevitable loss in Cyprus will be marvelous. But more on that later
American viewers — With so many big matches involving high-profile clubs with sizable fan bases in the U.S., Fox Sports always has tough decisions to make when it comes to selecting games for its main channels. Oftentimes last year, that meant no Borussia Dortmund, and no Christian Pulisic, on FS1. But this time around, we should get the best of both worlds. Four of Dortmund’s six games will be against either Real Madrid or Tottenham. There’s no way Fox can relegate any of them to lesser channels, right? RIGHT?!
Tottenham — Last year, Spurs couldn’t get out of a group featuring Monaco, CSKA Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen. This year, they get … Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. No biggie, only the best team in the world and a club that’s made three quarterfinals and a final since 2013.
In all seriousness, this isn’t the end of the world for Tottenham. There are three teams for two spots – we think – and Mauricio Pochettino’s side will fancy itself to go toe-to-toe with Dortmund. Heck, it might even come away with three or four points from its two games against the Germans. But you know that 1-0 defeat at APOEL Nicosia is coming. You just know it.
Oh, and remember: Dele Alli is suspended for the first three games of the group stage for a horrible tackle in last year’s Europa League.
Chelsea — Chelsea’s group is manageable. But, coming out of Pot 1, you’re unlucky if you meet two other teams who also expect to progress to the Round of 16, and that’s what Chelsea has in front of it. Atletico Madrid is probably the group favorite. Roma finished with 87 points last year in Serie A, its highest ever total and just four behind Juventus. This isn’t quite Madrid-Dortmund-Spurs, but it’s a pretty tough trio. One very strong side will be going home.
Shakhtar Donetsk — Clinging to its place in Pot 1, Shakhtar had to be confident about its fate. But it drew a top-four team from Pot 2, Manchester City, and probably the most difficult opponent from Pot 3, Napoli. The Ukrainians won’t be favorites to advance.
Anderlecht — The second-best team from Pot 1, the best from Pot 2, and probably the third-best from Pot 4. That’s rough.
Minnows — No, there’s not actually a team called Minnows. But FK Qarabag and APOEL Nicosia both fit the description, and they got dealt tough hands. Qarabag must face Chelsea, Atletico and Roma. APOEL gets Madrid, Dortmund and Tottenham. Neither has any hope.
But hey, on the plus side, they’ll both get their moments in the sun. Fans in Cyprus and Azerbaijan probably never thought they’d get to see Real Madrid or Chelsea live, respectively, on home soil, with their very own two eyes. Those will be special occasions. That’s part of the magic of the Champions League.
2017-18 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUPS
Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, FC Basel, CSKA Moscow
Group B: Bayern Munich, PSG, Anderlecht, Celtic
Group C: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Roma, FK Qarabag
Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Sporting CP
Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, NK Maribor
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord
Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig
Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL Nicosia
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.