The 2014-15 Champions League draw was made on Thursday in Monaco, as 32 of the top football clubs in Europe were anxious to find out who would be blocking their path to the final in Berlin.
The draw was always going to offer at least one or two "Groups of Death," and once again, the lottery balls delivered. Here's the full draw for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stages:
|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 group stages will be played out over six matchdays, starting on the 16 of September and finishing on the 10th of December. The two top clubs in every group will advance to the knockout stages, while the third-placed teams will enter the Europa League.
The full fixture list:
|Matchday 1||16/9||Olympiacos-Atletico||Matchday 3||22/10||Atletico-Malmo||Matchday 5||26/11||Atletico-Olympiacos|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Juventus-Malmo||Matchday 3||22/10||Olympiacos-Juventus||Matchday 5||26/11||Malmo-Juventus|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Liverpool-Ludogorets||Matchday 3||22/10||Ludogorets-Basel||Matchday 5||26/11||Ludogorets-Liverpool|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Real-Basel||Matchday 3||22/10||Liverpool-Real||Matchday 5||26/11||Basel-Real|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Monaco-Leverkusen||Matchday 3||22/10||Leverkusen-Zenit||Matchday 5||26/11||Leverkusen-Monaco|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Benfica-Zenit||Matchday 3||22/10||Monaco-Benfica||Matchday 5||26/11||Zenit-Benfica|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Galatasaray-Anderlecht||Matchday 3||22/10||Anderlecht-Arsenal||Matchday 5||26/11||Anderlecht-Galatasaray|
|Matchday 1||16/9||Dortmund-Arsenal||Matchday 3||22/10||Galatasaray-Dortmund||Matchday 5||26/11||Arsenal-Dortmund|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Malmo-Olympiacos||Matchday 4||4/11||Malmo-Atletico||Matchday 6||9/12||Olympiacos-Malmo|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Atletico-Juventus||Matchday 4||4/11||Juventus-Olympiacos||Matchday 6||9/12||Juventus-Atletico|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Basel-Liverpool||Matchday 4||4/11||Basel-Ludogorets||Matchday 6||9/12||Liverpool-Basel|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Ludogorets-Real||Matchday 4||4/11||Real-Liverpool||Matchday 6||9/12||Real-Ludogorets|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Zenit-Monaco||Matchday 4||4/11||Zenit-Leverkusen||Matchday 6||9/12||Monaco-Zenit|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Leverkusen-Benfica||Matchday 4||4/11||Benfica-Monaco||Matchday 6||9/12||Benfica-Leverkusen|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Arsenal-Galatasaray||Matchday 4||4/11||Arsenal-Anderlecht||Matchday 6||9/12||Galatasaray-Arsenal|
|Matchday 2||1/10||Anderlecht-Dortmund||Matchday 4||4/11||Dortmund-Galatasaray||Matchday 6||9/12||Dortmund-Anderlecht|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Roma-Moscow||Matchday 3||21/10||Moscow-City||Matchday 5||25/11||Moscow-Roma|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Bayern-Man City||Matchday 3||21/10||Roma-Bayern||Matchday 5||25/11||City-Bayern|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Barcelona-APOEL||Matchday 3||21/10||APOEL-PSG||Matchday 5||25/11||APOEL-Barcelona|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Ajax-PSG||Matchday 3||21/10||Barcelona-Ajax||Matchday 5||25/11||PSG-Ajax|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Chelsea-Schalke||Matchday 3||21/10||Schalke-Sporting||Matchday 5||25/11||Schalke-Chelsea|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Maribor-Sporting||Matchday 3||21/10||Chelsea-Maribor||Matchday 5||25/11||Sporting-Maribor|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Porto-BATE||Matchday 3||21/10||BATE-Shakhtar||Matchday 5||25/11||BATE-Porto|
|Matchday 1||17/9||Athletic-Shakhtar||Matchday 3||21/10||Porto-Athletic||Matchday 5||25/11||Shakhtar-Athletic|
|Matchday 2||30/9||City-Roma||Matchday 4||5/11||City-Moscow||Matchday 6||10/12||Roma-City|
|Matchday 2||30/9||Moscow-Bayern||Matchday 4||5/11||Bayern-Roma||Matchday 6||10/12||Bayern-Moscow|
|Matchday 2||30/9||PSG-Barcelona||Matchday 4||5/11||PSG-APOEL||Matchday 6||10/12||Barcelona-PSG|
|Matchday 2||30/9||APOEL-Ajax||Matchday 4||5/11||Ajax-Barcelona||Matchday 6||10/12||Ajax-APOEL|
|Matchday 2||30/9||Sporting-Chelsea||Matchday 4||5/11||Sporting-Schalke||Matchday 6||10/12||Chelsea-Sporting|
|Matchday 2||30/9||Schalke-Maribor||Matchday 4||5/11||Maribor-Chelsea||Matchday 6||10/12||Maribor-Schalke|
|Matchday 2||30/9||Shakhtar-Porto||Matchday 4||5/11||Shakhtar-BATE||Matchday 6||10/12||Porto-Shakhtar|
|Matchday 2||30/9||BATE-Athletic||Matchday 4||5/11||Athletic-Porto||Matchday 6||10/12||Athletic-Bate|
Matchday 1: Bayern Munich v Manchester City
Matchday 2: Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona
Matchday 3: Liverpool v Real Madrid
Matchday 4: Zenit St. Petersburg v Bayer Leverkusen
Matchday 5: Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund
Matchday 6: Juventus v Atletico Madrid
Balance Makes for Great Storylines
Groups C, E and H all feature at least three teams who will feel like they have an excellent chance of making it to the knockout stages, and realistically speaking, all four teams in Groups C and H have the talent required to make a deep run in the tournament.
The UEFA Champions League usually features one "Group of Death," a couple of interesting groups and a handful of one-sided affairs. This year, the latter are limited to Group G and maybe Group F, unless Ajax can make good on their potential and surprise one of Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.
Sure, every group has favourites, but sleeping on the likes of Olympiakos, Basel or Galatasaray is asking for trouble. Some of these groups are going to come down to the final matchday, and fans will be on the edge of their seats throughout the campaign.
UEFA often take criticism for their method of seeding (with Arsenal having to qualify through the play-offs only to end up in Pot 1), but this year, the system proved its value. For neutral fans, the groups couldn't have been laid out much better.
Pot 1 to Live to the Expectations
For all of the parity, it's very likely all eight teams from Pot 1 will make it to the knockout stages. Benfica and Porto will have a battle on their hands and Bayern Munich need to survive a treacherous Group D, but on paper at least, the top eight teams should qualify.
Porto will benefit from the current situation in Donetsk and the uncertainty surrounding their current squad, and as shared by ESPN Stats' Paul Carr, their compatriots were rightfully given the best odds to make it out of their group:
Soccer Power Index odds to advance, UCL Group C: Benfica 67%, Leverkusen 64%, Monaco 36%, Zenit 33%.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 28, 2014
Other top clubs like Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona will be tested fiercely in the group stages, but overall, the teams that came from Pot 1 all have a clear path to the next round.
Small Clubs Are Ever Growing
The Champions League has seen an increase of little-known clubs doing well on the biggest stage in recent years, and expect that trend to continue. For clubs like BATE, Ludogorets, Malmo and APOEL, home-field advantage is one of their biggest weapons.
Top clubs' travel schedules are already packed, and a late-fall match in Belarus or Scandinavia truly breaks with everything these squads are used to. The fans are out in full force for the biggest night in club history, the pitches aren't usually up to standards and the weather can truly make an impact on proceedings.
It seems every year fans are treated to a new Cinderella story, and looking at the collection of less-heralded teams from the outskirts of Europe, there's no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.
These clubs have come a long way in the past few years, and their training staff and preparation for matches has quickly caught up with how the top teams handle their business. There used to be a time fans could make fun of these football minnows, but that time is long gone.