Champions League draw throws up exciting prospects

August 25, 2017

England has five teams in the Champions League for the first time - and the draw yesterday (August 24th) threw up some fascinating contests.

Tottenham will have a daunting task as they face the reigning champions of Europe, Real Madrid. Former Spurs player Gareth Bale will be just one of the superstars back in London, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco and Karim Benzema leading the most formidable of attacks. 

If that wasn't challenging enough, German giants Borussia Dortmund will also be coming to London, although they will have bad memories of their last visit to Wembley in the Champions league, when they lost the 2013 final to Bayern Munich. The group will be completed by Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia.

There will be another London versus Madrid battle as Premier League champions Chelsea have been paired with Atletico Madrid - the club exiled striker Diego Costa wants to join. A tricky group also includes Italian giants AS Roma and FC Qarabag of Azerbaijan. 

Among the northern clubs, Liverpool have what looks like the most favourable draw after winning their qualifying tie with Hoffenheim, although they will be up against Sevilla, who beat them in the Europa League final two years ago. However, the Spaniards were knocked out of the Champions League by English opposition last year when they were beaten in the second round by Leicester City.  

Other visitors to Anfield include Spartak Moscow and NK Maribor of Slovenia. 

Manchester United's return to the competition after winning last year's Europa League has matched them up with some familiar foes. They have faced Benfica, Basle and CSKA Moscow in the group stages before, and older fans will recall Benfica for different reasons, with the team of Eusebio and Torres being beaten 4-1 at Wembley in 1968 as United became the first English winners of the European Cup.

Neighbours City face a tantalising group that includes Napoli, the first team they ever faced in the Champions League. Also included are Dutch champions Feyenoord and Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.

The draws have given the English sides a good chance of making progress, because they have avoided some of the biggest names in Europe, Real Madrid aside. While Spartak Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk were in the pot of top seeds, the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona and Neymar's Paris Saint-Germain have been avoided. Instead, it was Scottish champions Celtic who pulled the short straw as they face a group against Bayern, Paris Saint-Germain and Anderlecht. 

English clubs have not had the best of records in the Champions League in the past few years, but success has been cyclical. In the old European Cup, Manchester United were the only English side to win the tournament in its 25 years, followed by seven in eight years between 1977 and 1984. Similarly, the 1990s were a grim time for English sides until United's 1999 triumph, after which no English side got to the final until 2005, when Liverpool's win on penalties over AC Milan was the first in a sequence of seven seasons out of eight when at least one English side reached the final. Could 2018 see the start of another era of success? 

More information on Champions League hospitality packages will be made available soon on this website. Please check our football page for the latest or enquire here.

Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription

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