Premier League big guns await their Champions League fate

City, United, Liverpool and Spurs to discover opponents

 Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring a goal against Liverpool during last year’s  Champions League final. Photograph:  MB Media/Getty Images

Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring a goal against Liverpool during last year’s Champions League final. Photograph: MB Media/Getty Images

 

The draw for a new-look Champions League group stage, featuring more teams from Europe’s top five leagues and fewer representatives from the smaller ones, takes place in Monaco on Thursday.

Premier League representatives Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool will learn their group-stage fate.

The draw for the pool phase begins at 6pm at the Grimaldi Forum, with the ceremony also seeing the winners of the Uefa Player Awards being announced.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is on the shortlist for the men’s player of the year award, along with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric.

Ronaldo – now with Juventus – and Modric were part of the Real Madrid side that beat Liverpool 3-1 in last season’s final in Kiev as Los Blancos won the competition for a third successive year.

The 2018-19 final will be held at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on June 1st next year.

Scottish champions Celtic miss out on Thursday’s draw having been knocked out by AEK Athens in the third qualifying round earlier this month.

There are four pots of eight teams, with one team from each pot forming a group, although teams from the same association cannot face each other.

Premier League champions City, eliminated by Liverpool in the quarter-finals last term, are in Pot One one along with Real, Europa League winners Atletico, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris St Germain and Lokomotiv Moscow.

United and Spurs, who both exited at the last-16 stage in 2017-18, are in Pot Two, which also features Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli and Roma, with one more team to join.

Liverpool will be either in that pot or Pot Three – which includes Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, Ajax and CSKA Moscow – depending on the outcome of Wednesday night’s final matches of the qualifying play-off round.

The first group matches take place on September 18th and 19th.

Twenty-six teams qualify directly for the 32-team group stage. Real Madrid qualified both as holders and via La Liga, leaving an extra place which went to the champions of the 11th-ranked association – the Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzen.

Europa League winners Atletico Madrid also qualified through the league and that extra place was taken by the third-ranked team in the French league, Olympique Lyonnais.

Under the new qualification system, Uefa says the competition has undergone “evolution not revolution.”

Direct places

But although the format is the same, the allocation of slots is different.

Previously, Spain, England and Germany, the top three-ranked associations, received three guaranteed places in the group stage while Italy, ranked fourth, received two. Under the new system, those four countries receive four slots each. This has also led to a re-jigging of other slots.

The number of places open champions of the lower-ranked nations taking part in the qualifying competition has been reduced from five to four.

Furthermore, the champions of the 11th and 12th-ranked national associations – currently the Czech Republic and Switzerland – have lost their direct places in the group stage and must now enter those qualifiers.

Czech champions Viktoria Plzen, however, were ultimately spared the qualifiers thanks to Real Madrid qualifying by two criteria. And Swiss champions Young Boys beat Dinamo Zagreb in the playoff round to reach the group stage for the first time.

The changes were made during the summer of 2016 amid speculation that Europe’s biggest clubs were considering setting up a breakaway league.

Uefa had been without a president since the previous December when Frenchman Michel Platini was banned for eight years by global soccer body Fifa for ethics violations, later reduced to four on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas). Platini has denied any wrongdoing.

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