Thursday 26 August 2021

Champions League group stage draw

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United will discover their European fate when the Champions League returns later on Thursday.
The draw for the 2021-22 of the continent's most prestigious club tournament - in its 30th season under the current guise - takes place in the Turkish capital of Istanbul at 5pm.

Solskjaer's United finished second in the league last term and are one of the 26 automatic qualifiers with the other six clubs reaching this stage via the play-offs. The 32 clubs are divided into four seeding pots with each club from one of those pots being put into eight groups of four (A - H).

The first pot consists of the tournament's top seeds: holders Chelsea, Europa Cup winners Villarreal and the league champions from the six highest ranked UEFA nations - Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Internazionale, Bayern Munich, Lille and Sporting Lisbon. 

United are in pot two - determined by governing body UEFA's club co-efficient system - along with heavyweights PSG, Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool, Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund. Have the top two pots ever been stronger than these in the tournament's history? 

Pot three consists of: Porto, Ajax, Atalanta, RB Leipzig, Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk and RB Salzburg.
In pot four are debutants Sheriff Tiraspol - the first club from Moldova to play in the Champions League group stage - along with AC Milan, Wolfsburg, Club Brugge, Malmo, Besiktas, Young Boys and Dynamo Kyiv. 

No team can play any other side from their own league at this stage meaning there can be no all-English affairs until the start of the knockouts in the New Year. 

Spain has five representatives (the top four from La Liga last season plus Europa Cup winners Villarreal) with clubs 'paired' with other teams from their country (for example PSG and Lille) to ensure matches are split between alternate matchdays on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Two pairings are done where a country has four or more sides in the draw as is the case with England, Spain, Germany and Italy. The two clubs paired together are always in the opposite side of the draw. 

The best case scenario for the Reds would be a group with Lille, Zenit and Club Brugge but we all know its rigged for us to get the hardest possible draw every time so we're definitely getting Bayern, Ajax and Milan whilst City get Sevilla, Shakhtar (for the 5,000th time in a row), and Sheriff Tiraspol. I'm looking forward to us getting a ridiculously hard time of it yet again and yet another "Group of Death" for the umpteenth season in succession. 

The tournament kicks off with the first round of group games on Matchday One, 14/15 September with the group stage culminating in early December before the road to Russia begins in earnest with the round of 16 in February. The 2021-22 Champions League final will be played on Saturday May 28 2022 in Saint Petersburg. 

We'll have full reaction to the draw and run the rule of United's group stage opponents as Ole and his men look to improve on last season's disappointing showing. 

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