Manchester United and Liverpool are back in the Champions League group stage this season, with the all-important draw to be made in Istanbul on Thursday evening (17.00 BST).
The 32 teams that have qualified for the group stage have been split into four pots of eight and one from each pot will go into each of the eight groups A-H. Pot one is made up of seeded clubs, and the other three pots are determined by UEFA’s club coefficient rankings.
Based on a five-year rolling cycle, both clubs have a strong ranking score that puts them into pot two. Since 2016, United have won the Europa League, reached another final and semi-finals, as well as twice getting into the Champions League knockouts. Liverpool, meanwhile have both won and finished runners-up in the Champions League, although they were not in Europe in 2016/17.
Pot one is reserved for the Champions League holders, Europa League holders and the champions of each of Europe’s six highest ranked domestic leagues.
However, pot two is arguably the strongest in the draw and it actually means United and Liverpool instantly avoid Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Borussia Dortmund.
Here’s a run down of which clubs the Premier League giants can be drawn against…
Country protection is in effect at this stage of the Champions League, so United and Liverpool cannot be drawn into the same group as either Chelsea or Manchester City, who are in pot one.
That means there are only six possible clubs, which are Atletico Madrid as champions of Spain, Bayern Munich as champions of Germany, Inter as champions of Italy, Lille as champions of France, Sporting CP as champions of Portugal and Villarreal as 2021 Europa League winners.
Lille are actually UEFA’s lowest ranked club in the entire competition, which is down to their rollercoaster existence in recent years, although Sporting are perhaps the weakest in pot one.
Potential clubs: Villarreal, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter, Lille, Sporting CP
Best case scenario: Sporting CP
Worst case scenario: Bayern Munich
Pot three presents a number of strong teams and a couple of lengthy potential away trips.
Portuguese duo Porto and Benfica ought never to be taken lightly at this level, while Atalanta remain strong and RB Leipzig have established themselves as Champions League regulars.
Having to travel several hours east and back in midweek to face either Zenit St Petersburg or Shakhtar Donetsk wouldn’t be ideal, even if the teams aren’t necessarily that strong. Red Bull Salzburg could still spring a surprise but are probably the one to get here.
Potential clubs: Porto, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg, Benfica, Atalanta, Zenit St Petersburg
Best case scenario: Red Bull Salzburg
Worst case scenario: RB Leipzig
The majority of clubs in pot four, the weakest in the draw, would be favourable as any team with ambitions of going far in the competition should be good enough to beat any of them.
There is still a travel factor, with Dynamo Kyiv representing a long away trip. The same is true of group stage debutants Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova, even though they are objectively the weakest club that has got this far. They did shock regular qualifiers Dinamo Zagreb in qualifying, though.
AC Milan would probably be the main one to avoid, with their low ranking the result of a relative lack of meaningful recent European action. This is their first season in the Champions League since 2014 and they have only been in the Europa League in three of the last five years.
Potential clubs: Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv, Club Brugge, Young Boys, AC Milan, Malmo, Wolfsburg, Sheriff Tiraspol
Best case scenario: Malmo
Worst case scenario: AC Milan