Champions League Draw 2014: Fixture Dates, Top Matchups and Early Predictions

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Champions League Draw 2014: Fixture Dates, Top Matchups and Early Predictions
Claude Paris/Associated Press

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:

2014-15 Champions League Draw
Group A Group B Group C Group D
Atletico Madrid Real Madrid Benfica Arsenal
Juventus FC Basel Zenit Borussia Dortmund
Olympiacos Liverpool Bayer Leverkusen Galatasaray
Malmo Ludogorets AS Monaco Anderlecht
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
Roma APOEL Maribor BATE Borisov

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:

Fixture List Groups A-D
Matchday Date Match Matchday Date Match Matchday Date Match
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

Fixture List Groups E-F
Matchday Date Match Matchday Date Match Matchday Date Match
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

Top Matchups

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

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

Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

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.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

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

Gabriel Pecot/Associated Press

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:

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

Petros Karadjias/Associated Press

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.

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