The Champions League held its group stage draw on Thursday, placing 32 of Europe’s best soccer teams into eight pools as they attempt to qualify for the knockout rounds.
While there are enough quality teams in the field to ensure that every group will have competitive matches, inevitably, some pools are stronger than others. And as soon as the draw was completed, commentators began opining on which teams had landed in a so-called “group of death.”
Tough Draws for English Clubs
Most pundits fixated on Group B, which features four teams that likely entered the draw with realistic hopes of making the knockout rounds. Instead only two of Barcelona, Tottenham, Inter Milan, and PSV will be able to go through in a group where every single match should be fiercely competitive.
Barcelona remains the favorite to go through, with Ladbrokes making the Spanish champions a 1/2 favorite to top the group. Tottenham (9/4) and Inter Milan (7/1) are expected to battle for the second spot, with PSV (33/1) being the outsider here, though they still have enough talent to get results against any of the other clubs in this group.
There are other groups that feature a similar mix of competitive teams. In Group C, Paris Saint-Germain (4/6 to win the group) is favored over Liverpool (7/4) and Napoli (6/1), with Red Star Belgrade (150/1) considered a longshot to advance despite an impressive qualifying campaign.
According to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, his team received a tough Champions League draw, but one that is fitting for the world’s most prestigious club competition.
“I expected a difficult group, we have a difficult group and that’s what the Champions League is all about,” Klopp told reporters on Friday. “PSG are one of the most exciting teams in the world and I think their target is to win the Champions League, so that will be two interesting matches. Napoli, we beat them in preseason but it goes without saying these two games will be completely a different challenge.”
Group H offers a difficult challenge for an English side that has been struggling to start the season. Manchester United (15/8 to win the group at William Hill) will face off against Juventus (4/6), Valencia (6/1), and group stage debutantes Young Boys (66/1), meaning that former United star Cristiano Ronaldo will be making a trip back to Old Trafford as embattled manager Jose Mourinho tries to hang on to his job.
Bayern, City Avoid Serious Challengers
In contrast, a couple of the tournament favorites received relatively favorable draws. Bayern Munich (1/7) is heavily favored to top Group E ahead of Benfica (7/1), Ajax (10/1), and AEK Athens (66/1), all of whom had to come through the qualifying rounds to reach the group stage. Manchester City (1/5) should be similarly pleased with their Group F draw, as they are expected to handle Lyon (7/1), Hoffenheim (12/1), and Shakhtar Donetsk (14/1).
The top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League, while the third-place side will move to the Europa League. Following the group stage draw, Manchester City has been made the 9/2 favorite to win the Champions League title by Ladbrokes, with Barcelona (6/1), Juventus (13/2), PSG (7/1), Real Madrid (8/1) and Bayern Munich (8/1) also leading contenders to become European champions this season.