The Champions League group stage draw takes place in Monaco on Thursday evening, and for the first time ever, five Premier League sides will be involved.
Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Europa League winners Manchester United in the draw by defeating Hoffenheim 6-3 on aggregate in the playoffs to end their three-year exile from the competition.
With Jurgen Klopp’s side seeded in pot three (along with Spurs) the chances of them drawing at least one European heavyweight are high – in fact, with pot two looking particularly strong, the odds of a “group of death” are pretty short.
Indeed, even first seeds Chelsea could end up facing the likes of Barcelona, Atletico or Paris Saint-Germain, showing that no side is completely safe from getting a really daunting draw.
Second-seeds Manchester United and Manchester City will definitely be facing champions of some capacity, while Celtic as fourth seeds will do well to avoid another nightmare draw like last year.
Best Case: Porto, Anderlecht, Maribor
Worst Case: Barcelona, Napoli, RB Leipzig
Back in the day, being a first seed meant that a team was almost guaranteed to be stronger than everyone in the pots below. However, with the criteria regarding that pot having changed (i.e. reserved for champions) then it presents a very strong second pot also. Antonio Conte’s side will almost certainly get a tough opponent in that port, while Roma and Napoli are the standout bogey sides in pot three.
Celtic could await n pot four, but Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig would be much tougher opposition.
MANCHESTER CITY/MANCHESTER UNITED
Best Case: Spartak Moscow, Anderlecht, Maribor
Worst Case: Real Madrid, Napoli, Celtic
Spartak Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk are, with the greatest of respect, the first seeds that everyone wants to face in the group stage, as the further travel would be offset by the lower standard in opposition. Anderlecht and Olympiacos are, on paper, the weaker sides in pot three (Basel ordinarily too but they have a surprisingly good record agianst English teams), while Maribor and Qarabag are the ones to get in pot four.
In terms of the worst case in pot four, while RB Leipzig are still the stronger side, Celtic would raise their game (just as they did against Man City last year) and could give the Manchester sides a much better game than the Bundesliga outfit.
Best Case: Spartak Moscow, Porto, Maribor
Worst Case: Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic
Whichever way Liverpool and Spurs look at it, they are likely to get a hard draw. Real and PSG are listed as the worst there, but they could just as easily be up against Juventus and Barcelona or Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. Likewise, they could get Spartak Moscow and Porto so Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will be clutching the rosary beads at around 5pm.
The fourth seed prospects are interesting, for different reasons. Celtic, for the same reasons as above, would raise ther game against either of these teams, but Liverpool’s summer-long pursuit of Naby Keita would definitely give a potential clash an extra edge. That said, Klopp seems to do well against German teams so Celtic would be the ones to avoid as far as he is concerned.
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we catch up with Sligo Rovers striker Vinny Faherty after that brilliant win at Cork City last weekend, as well as looking back at last weekend’s Premier Divison matches and ahead to this weekend’s FAI Cup action.