After six teams booked their places in Europe's biggest competition with Tuesday and Wednesday's playoff second legs, the field of 32 for the UEFA Champions League group stage is set. Now all that awaits is Thursday's highly anticipated group stage draw.
On Tuesday, the stage was set for some drama with all three home teams trailing by narrow margins—and the action did not disappoint. Young Boys advanced after a 3–2 win (6–4 aggregate) over Ferencváros, Malmö lost 2–1 to Ludogorets but won the tie (3–2 agg.) and a scoreless draw between PSV Eindhoven and Benfica sent the Portuguese side through on a 2–1 aggregate.
On Wednesday, Shakhtar Donetsk survived an extra-time scare from Monaco to advance (3–2 agg.),RB Salzburg finished off Brøndby (4–2 agg., with U.S. midfielder Brenden Aaronson scoring a goal in each leg) and Sheriff Tiraspol defeated Dinamo Zagreb (3-0 agg.) to become the first-ever Moldovan side in the Champions League group stage.
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Next comes Thursday's draw when the teams will be put into their four pots and drawn into eight groups of four. Pot One is made up of the reigning Champions League winner (Chelsea) and Europa League champion (Villarreal) joining the six league winners from UEFA's highest-ranked nations (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal) according to the UEFA coefficient that measures club and league success.
Meanwhile, Pot Two has been filled out by European giants who missed out on their respective league titles after surprising seasons in La Liga, Ligue 1 and, to an extent, Serie A. That means a loaded second tier, and the potential for some explosive group dynamics. After Pot One, qualified teams are put into the subsequent pots based on the order of UEFA's club coefficient ranking. Here are the draw pots so far:
Pot One: Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Atlético Madrid, Villarreal, Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Lille
Pot Two: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund
Pot Three: Porto, Ajax, RB Leipzig, Atalanta, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica, RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk
Pot Four: AC Milan, Club Brugge, Wolfsburg, Young Boys, Malmö, Beşiktaş, Dynamo Kiev, Sheriff Tiraspol
With clubs not allowed to be drawn into a group with teams from the same league, there are multiple, mouth-watering, group-of-death scenarios that could occur. It's also entirely possible that a Manchester City, PSG, Ajax and AC Milan group could be drawn along with a Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Porto, Beşiktaş group and a Chelsea, Barcelona, Atalanta, Wolfsburg group, for instance.
After setting a U.S. record with 10 American players named to Champions League rosters last season, it's likely that the mark with be broken again this season with the teams of Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, led by American coach Jesse Marsch), Aaronson (RB Salzburg), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Tim Weah (Lille), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Owen Otasowie (Club Brugge) and Jordan Siebatcheu (Young Boys, led by American coach David Wagner) already having their places cemented in the group stage. Potential transfers—both for players heading to a UCL club or away from one—could alter the list as well.
As a result of the vast numbers, a group featuring Pulisic, McKennie and Adams, for instance, is not out of the question, among the many permutations of groups that feature multiple U.S. internationals.
The Champions League group stage will take place across six weeks starting soon after next week's international break.
Matchday 1: September 14-15
Matchday 2: September 28-29
Matchday 3: October 19-20
Matchday 4: November 2-3
Matchday 5: November 23-24
Matchday 6: December 7-8
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