The 2014-15 UEFA Champions League draw took place on Thursday in Monaco following the conclusion of the final round of play-off fixtures. And with 32 of the top clubs in Europe vying for the Old Big Ears, the road to the final at the Olympia Stadium in Berlin is never going to be easy.
AS Roma and AS Monaco are the two clubs from Pot 4 everyone wants to avoid, while Liverpool will present any of the favourites with a nightmare scenario from Pot 3.
Here's the full draw for the 2014-15 Champions League Group Stage:
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Atletico Madrid||Real Madrid||Benfica||Arsenal|
|Juventus||FC Basel||Zenit||Borussia Dortmund|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Bayern Munich||Barcelona||Chelsea||FC Porto|
|Manchester City||Paris Saint-Germain||Schalke 04||Shakhtar|
|CSKA Moscow||Ajax||Sporting Club||Athletic Bilbao|
The full schedule for the 2014-15 Champions League group stage:
Premier League champions Manchester City were given a very difficult task qualifying from Group E, this year's so-called "Group of Death."
Facing perennial contenders Bayern Munich, a difficult trip to Russia to take on CSKA Moscow and Italian giants AS Roma, the Citizens will need to be at their best to qualify for the knockout stages.
Gary Lineker feels the club just can't catch a break:
I think it's safe to say that once again Manchester City have drawn a stinker of a group.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 28, 2014
In contrast, Chelsea were given an easier path to the next round with Schalke 04, Sporting Club de Portugal and Maribor. While no team should be underestimated at this stage of the competition, the Blues should have little difficulty topping Group G.
As shared by Get West London's Dan Levene, the Blues will travel to Maribor for the very first time:
First ever trip to Maribor in Slovenia rounds off Chelsea's draw. Likely to be a much demand for the 13,000 seats at their Ljudski vrt home.— Dan Levene (@BluesChronicle) August 28, 2014
Arsenal will once again face Borussia Dortmund, while Galatasaray will present the Gunners with a tough away match and Anderlecht have started the 2014-15 season in dominant fashion in Belgium.
Returning to the competition for the first time since 2010, Liverpool avoided a potential nightmare draw, although a trip to the Bernabeu to take on defending champions Real Madrid won't be easy.
FC Basel have had an excellent track record in Europe in recent years and will rival the Reds for the second spot in Group B, while newcomers Ludogorets get to host two of the most storied clubs in all of football.
Defending champions Real Madrid added numerous World Cup heroes to their squad over the summer, and there's little doubt these perennial contenders will once again be among the favourites to make it to Berlin.
No club has ever repeated as champions since the tournament took on its current format, but as reported by ESPN FC, star forward Cristiano Ronaldo believes Los Blancos have the talent to make history. When asked if it was possible, he said:
Madrid are going to be the first team. I hope so. Maybe we have the potential to be the best but I believe the players that Real Madrid have bought this season -- James [Rodriguez], [Toni] Kroos and [Keylor] Navas -- are going to give more support to the team and more quality.
Spanish rivals Barcelona added arguably the biggest name in the summer transfer window, as former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez will be suiting up for the Blaugrana once his ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup ends.
Coupled with the addition of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Barcelona look much improved compared to the squad that went trophyless in 2013-14. Playing in the competitive La Liga always puts extra strain on Spanish squads, but these two heavyweights have a history of excellence in Europe.
The same can be said for German champions Bayern Munich, who looked dominant for much of 2013-14 but fell apart late in the season. Pep Guardiola is in his second year managing the team, and his squad should be much improved as a result.
Robert Lewandowski gives the Bavarians an extra dimension in attack, and if the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger can remain injury-free throughout the season, the Germans might just be favourites to go all the way.
Chelsea added veteran talent and proven production to their squad over the summer, and the early signs are very positive. The health of Diego Costa will be key for the Blues, who always seem to step it up in the latter stages of a big tournament.
If there was ever a team from Pot 4 capable of making waves in the tournament, it's AS Roma in 2014-15. The Giallorossi have a young, exciting squad that has improved tremendously in the past two years, and while they lack the experience to win the cup, they're the one club no one wants to face in the group stages.
Manchester City are tipped to finally get over the European hump seemingly every year, and every year, they fall short. The summer of 2014 has been relatively quiet at the Etihad, but the consistency might actually help the Citizens on this occasion.
Bayer Leverkusen looked absolutely dominant during the play-offs, and as far as talent goes, they're more than worthy of a spot in Pot 2. The same goes for Liverpool, who will finally make their return to the biggest stage of European football.
Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Basel are two of the most consistent clubs in European football. While their results are often unspectacular, they get the job done and will present any club with a difficult away fixture. Top teams sleeping on the Russian or Swiss outfit could soon find themselves outside of the top spot.