The 2023/24 edition of the UEFA Champions League will be the last as we know it, as the tournament switches to a Swiss-style model next season. It’s therefore more important than ever to take a deep dive into the draw of the tournament’s group stage and appreciate it while we can.
When is the draw?
The draw takes place a week from now, on Thursday 31st August – just one day after the conclusion of the final qualifying stages. It shall be held in Monaco at the Grimaldi Forum, and the draw begins at 5pm BST. It will be available to stream on the UEFA website.
As always, the tournament will be made up of 32 of the best teams in Europe from the previous season. 26 of these teams achieved a place automatically, while a further six teams qualify through the playoff system. As it stands, pots one and two are set in stone – but pots three and four will only be made final upon completion of the qualifying process.
Naturally, pot one is where you’ll find the best teams in Europe from the previous season.
Firstly, we have the winners of UEFA’s two premier competitions – Manchester City and Sevilla. The former will be looking to build on the success of the previous season, in which they managed to win their first Champions League title, while the latter will be happy to avoid the European giants of pot one in the group stage. This being said, Sevilla shouldn’t be underestimated. They have a rich history of European success and certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
Then we have the winners of the six top European leagues: Barcelona (Spain), Bayern Munich (Germany), Napoli (Italy), PSG (France) and Benfica (Portugal). As Manchester City qualified through their UEFA successes, the English spot falls to the winners of the next highest coefficient, meaning Feyenoord (Netherlands) sneak into the first pot, which they’ll hope gives them an easier path out of the group stage.
A number of these teams are undeniably contenders for the trophy this season, and all of them are expected to make it out of their respective groups with ease – but you never know, maybe there’ll be some upsets on the cards given the strength of some of the remaining sides in the draw.
This season, pot two is perhaps stronger than ever.
It’s made up of Real Madrid (Spain), Arsenal (England), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Inter Milan (Italy), Porto (Portugal), Atletico Madrid (Spain), RB Leipzig (Germany) and Manchester United (England).
That’s right, last season’s finalists (Inter) and the most successful UCL side ever (Real Madrid) both have fallen to the second pot – as well as giants from England and Germany alike. Both Arsenal and Dortmund came close to winning their respective leagues last season, and there’s certainly no reason that they can’t make their way to the latter stages of the tournament. RB Leipzig won the DFB-Pokal, while Manchester United made it to the FA Cup final. There’s no shortage of success in pot two, and each side will be determined to win their group- regardless of who their opponents are. We’re certainly in for a treat.
Pots 3 and 4
As it stands, pots three and four aren’t completely decided. RB Salzburg (Austria), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), AC Milan (Italy), Lazio (Italy) and Red Star Belgrade (Serbia) are confirmed to be in pot three, however Celtic (Scotland), Real Sociedad (Spain) and Newcastle United‘s (England) positions are dependent on the remaining qualifying games.
AC Milan are perhaps a dark horse being situated in the third pot, and may contribute towards the creation of a so-called ‘group of death’ – as may be the case for Newcastle, who are expected to fall into the fourth and final pot.
Only two teams are currently guaranteed to be in the final pot: Union Berlin (Germany) – who are making their first UCL appearance in the club’s history – and RC Lens (France), who haven’t competed in the competition since the 2002-2003 season. Both teams fall to the fourth pot due to their lack of experience in the tournament, and I’m sure both sides will be aware of the potential difficulties this may bring them in the group stage.
As we know, this is the last season with the UCL format, and everything points to it being a phenomenal tournament. In just one week the dust will settle on the qualifying rounds, leaving behind a clear view of the groups and exactly who your team will be facing. Maybe you’ll get lucky and avoid the Goliaths of the tournament, or maybe you’ll pull the short straw and end up in the infamous Group of Death.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that this will be a Champions League to remember, Only a single question remains. Who will reign victorious this season and lift the trophy in the historic Wembley Stadium? Only time will tell, but the road to Wembley begins on Thursday.