Liverpool will have the a glamorous return to the Champions League after being drawn against holders Real Madrid in the group stage.
Five-time European champions Liverpool will face 10-time winners Real as well as FC Basel and Ludogorets — the Bulgarian side who had a fairytale win in the play-offs — in Group B, while there was a familiar look to the draw for the three other English sides.
Manchester City have perhaps the toughest group — they will face Bayern Munich for the third time in four years — plus CSKA Moscow and Roma in Group E, while Arsenal will play Borussia Dortmund for the second year running as well as Galatasaray and Anderlecht in Group D In Group G, Chelsea will play German side Schalke for the second consecutive season plus Sporting Lisbon and Maribor.
Real Madrid may be a daunting prospect for Brendan Rodgers’s side, but Liverpool beat the Spanish giants 5-0 on aggregate in 2009 including a 4-0 hammering at Anfield.
Rodgers welcomed the “special” draw, this evening.
“Initially, we’re excited,” Rodgers Liverpoolfc.com. “That was last season’s hard work, what we were working towards - getting Liverpool back into a competition where we are synonymous. To be back in it again, no matter who we were going to play, it was always going to be exciting. But to have Real Madrid in your group, the champions last season, is going to be special.
“I’m already thinking of Anfield on that night. But there are two other good teams in it along with us. It’s a tough group but we’ll really look forward to the challenge of getting out of the group.”
Ludogorets enjoyed a charmed passage to the group stage after the most unlikely of wins over Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest in the play-off.
Defender Cosmin Moti went in goal after keeper Vladislav Stoyanov was sent off and saved two shoot-out penalties to send his club into the group stage for the first time. The 29-year-old even scored the first spot-kick himself, while still wearing his gloves, before going in goal to provide more heroics.
Ludogorets had been trailing Steaua 1-0 from the first leg but forced extra-time thanks to a stunning last-minute volley from substitute Wanderson.
Cillian Sheridan, the only Irish man in the Champions League, looks unlikley to be there for very long after his side Apoel FC of Cyprus joined Barcelona, Paris St Germain and Ajax in Group F.
Champions League Draw
GROUP A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
GROUP B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
GROUP C: Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco
GROUP D: Arsenal, Dortmund, Galtasaray, Anderlecht
GROUP E: Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma
GROUP F: Barcelona, Paris St Germain, Ajax, Apoel FC
GROUP G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, Maribor
GROUP H: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov