Barcelona began the defense of their Champions League title on Thursday, as the UEFA announced the groups for the 32 clubs. The Catalans are hoping to be the first team to win the European Cup in consecutive years since the format changed more than 20 years ago, and their road appears far less rocky than some of the world’s other top clubs.
Luis Enrique’s side, which dropped Juventus 3-1 in last season’s final for their fifth title, will square off against Serie A runner-ups Roma, as well as Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkusen and Belarusian side BATE Borisov in Group E.
After also claiming La Liga and the Copa del Rey last season, Barcelona fared far better in the draw then some of their closest competitors and are expected to be among the favorites with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar once again leading the attack.
Perhaps no side received more punishing a draw than Premier League’s Manchester City, who join Juve, two-time Europa League champion Sevilla, and Borussia Monchengladbach in Group D. It’s familiar territory for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, considering last year they were cast alongside Bayern Munich, Roma, and CSKA Moscow in the group stages.
However, City are now armed with new forward Raheem Sterling next to Sergio Aguero, and the draw may cause Ethiad officials to increase their efforts to sign Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne before the transfer window closes next week.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, victorious two years ago, will begin their potential rise back atop Europe’s most prestigious competition against Paris Saint-Germain, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Swedish side Malmo in Group A.
Los Blancos are no doubt itching to regain the title after Juve bounced them in the semifinals 3-2 on aggregate, while PSG endured a harrowing 5-1 aggregate letdown by the Catalans’ hands in the quarterfinals after dispensing the favored Chelsea in the first knockout round in a classic 3-3 match decided by away goals.
The Blues, in the midst of defending the Premier League title, didn’t exactly draw a very difficult group, but manager Jose Mourinho may find it challenging to play against Porto in Group G. The manager made his name by helping the Portuguese side win Champions League in 2004, and must battle his old club along with Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
After a one-year absence, Manchester United makes their return to Champions League in Group B, pairing up with Eredivisie winners PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow, and Bundesliga runner-ups Wolfsburg.
Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger may have received the stiffest draw, starting with perennial powerhouse Bayern Munich, who have bounced the Gunners in two of the last three competitions, and Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb rounding out Group F.
Check out all eight of the groups below.
Zenit St. Petersburg
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