Champions League Draw Primer: Pots, Potential Group Pairings

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Bayern Munich's final triumph over PSG is just over a month old, but the next edition of the Champions League is already set to get going.

Technically, it actually has been for weeks. The qualifying rounds began before the final eight commenced in Portugal last month, with dozens of clubs fighting for six places in the group stage. Olympiakos, Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros secured three of those spots on Tuesday, while Salzburg, Krasnodar and Midtjylland wrapped up the final places on Wednesday.

The bulk of the pots for Thursday's draw had long been set, with UEFA continuing to follow the formula that puts the defending champion, the defending Europa League champion and the league winners of the top six domestic leagues as ranked by UEFA's country coefficient. Since Bayern Munich won both the Champions League and Bundesliga, the seventh-highest-ranked nation, Russia, has its champion enter the top pot.

The following three pots of eight teams are determined solely by UEFA's club coefficient rankings, with the remaining 24 teams distributed in order.

As a result, the pots look as follows, with the results of the playoffs determining the final two (clubs listed in order of UEFA coefficient):

POT 1: Bayern Munich, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Juventus, PSG, Porto, Zenit Saint Petersburg

POT 2: Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Ajax

POT 3: Dynamo Kiev, Salzburg, RB Leipzig, Inter Milan, Olympiakos, Lazio, Krasnodar, Atalanta

POT 4: Lokomotiv Moscow, Marseille, Club Brugge, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Istanbul Basaksehir, Midtjylland, Rennes, Ferencvaros, 

Clubs from the same league cannot be paired together in the group stage (nor can clubs from Russia and Ukraine, for geopolitical reasons), which limits the possibilities when it comes to group permutations, but an early look at the finalized pots could yield groups with the following trios:

Bayern-Barcelona-Inter Milan: Anything involving Barcelona and Bayern at this point would make for great theater after Bayern's 8-2 thrashing in the quarterfinals last month. Factor in some recent overlap (Ivan Perisic back with Inter after his loan to Bayern; Arturo Vidal now with Inter after being offloaded by Barcelona), and there'd be some added entertainment value.

Juventus-Chelsea-Leipzig: Or, the Group of USMNT, with Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams all featuring for their sides. Last season featured a group that contained Chelsea (Pulisic), Ajax (Sergiño Dest) and Lille (Tim Weah), but this trio would take things up a level. Substitute Barcelona for Chelsea, and it would feature McKennie, Dest and Adams (now that Dest's move from Ajax is officially confirmed). Substitute one Red Bull property for another in Leipzig for Salzburg, and instead of Adams, it's manager Jesse Marsch.

Real Madrid-Ajax-Inter: This trio has combined for 20 European titles (13 of them to Madrid, four for Ajax and three for Inter), which would make for the most trophy-laden possibility. Marseille, the 1993 winner, would make it 21 if it winds up in Pot 4 and lands with the other three.

PSG-Man City-Atalanta: Holy goals. There's also the added potential for a PSG-Atalanta rematch, after the Parisians narrowly advanced to the semifinals at Atalanta's expense. All three took part in the final eight in Portugal in August.

The group stage begins in three weeks, with the competition currently set to follow its traditional format and structure after being forced to adjust as a result of the pandemic last season. Whether fans will be allowed to attend remains to be seen (and likely will be determined by local guidelines). Over 15,000 attended the UEFA Super Cup in Hungary last week, with the match alluded to as a "pilot" test by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

The group matches will be played on the following dates: 

Matchday 1: October 20-21

Matchday 2: October 27-29

Matchday 3: November 3-4

Matchday 4: November 24-25

Matchday 5: December 1-2

Matchday 6: December 8-9