Cream of Europe await UCL draw

For most teams in this year’s UEFA Champions League, Thursday will be the most important day of the tournament, though it’s one were no matches will be played. Instead, the tournaments eight, four-team groups will be drawn at a ceremony in Monaco (live, 11:30 a.m. ET, FOX Soccer), a draw which will outline the path to the knockout round for each of the competition’s 32 teams.

To draw the groups, UEFA divides the field into four, eight club pots, organized such that the tournament’s high rated teams will not be slotted into the same quartet. Pot 1 contains the eight teams with the highest UEFA club coefficient ratings – a measurement based on the team’s performance in the five preceding Champions and Europa leagues. Pot 2 contains the next eight highest rated clubs. The teams with the lowest ratings are placed in Pot 4.

Pot 1 is headed by defending champion Barcelona, who are joined by rival Real Madrid as La Liga’s two representatives in the top group. Three teams from England – Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal – are joined by Bayern Munich, Porto and Inter Milan.

Italian titan Milan is the standout club in Pot 2, having been knocked out of the lead pot when Arsenal eliminated Udinese in a qualifying playoff on Wednesday. Lyon, Valencia, Villarreal and Benfica may also catch eyes, though Shakhtar Donetsk could prove to be one of the most dangerous sides in the second pot. Russian CSKA Moscow and France’s Olympique Marseille complete the octet.

Manchester City will be the club everybody will want to avoid from the third pot, the club’s limited European success (and no Champions League experience) grouping them with the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg, Ajax, and Bayer Leverkusen. French champion Lille is also in Pot 3, as is Olympiacos, Basel, and BATE Borisov.

In the final pool, Borussia Dortmund will be an uncommonly strong fourth seed in what will likely be a group of death. Italians Napoli are also in the fourth pot, where they are joined by knockout round qualifiers Dinamo Zagreb, APOEL, Genk, and Viktoria Plzen. Surprise Romanian champions Otelul Galati are also in the final group, as are Trabzonspor, who came late to the Champions League party after Turkish champions Fenerbahce were pulled out on Wednesday by the Turkish Football Federation.

Those hoping for a group of death will want to see Barcelona, Milan, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund drawn together, while a quartet of Porto, Shakthar, BATE and Otelul would sit at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The process of creating the groups begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on FOX Soccer, with the draw’s only restriction preventing teams from the same association from being grouped together. Teams will also be slotted into groups such that no more than two teams from an association play on a given match day.