Barcelona began the defense of their Champions League title on
Thursday, as the UEFA announced the groups for the 32 clubs. The
Catalans are hoping to be the first team to win the European Cup in
consecutive years since the format changed more than 20 years ago, and
their road appears far less rocky than some of the world’s other top
Luis Enrique’s side, which dropped Juventus 3-1 in last season’s
final for their fifth title, will square off against Serie A runner-ups
Roma, as well as Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkusen and Belarusian side BATE
Borisov in Group E.
After also claiming La Liga and the Copa del Rey last season,
Barcelona fared far better in the draw then some of their closest
competitors and are expected to be among the favorites with Lionel
Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar once again leading the attack.
Perhaps no side received more punishing a draw than Premier League’s
Manchester City, who join Juve, two-time Europa League champion Sevilla,
and Borussia Monchengladbach in Group D. It’s familiar territory for
Manuel Pellegrini’s side, considering last year they were cast alongside
Bayern Munich, Roma, and CSKA Moscow in the group stages.
However, City are now armed with new forward Raheem Sterling next to
Sergio Aguero, and the draw may cause Ethiad officials to increase their
efforts to sign Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne before the transfer window closes next week.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, victorious two years ago, will
begin their potential rise back atop Europe’s most prestigious
competition against Paris Saint-Germain, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Swedish
side Malmo in Group A.
Los Blancos are no doubt itching to regain the title after Juve
bounced them in the semifinals 3-2 on aggregate, while PSG endured a
harrowing 5-1 aggregate letdown by the Catalans’ hands in the
quarterfinals after dispensing the favored Chelsea in the first knockout
round in a classic 3-3 match decided by away goals.
The Blues, in the midst of defending the Premier League title, didn’t
exactly draw a very difficult group, but manager Jose Mourinho may find
it challenging to play against Porto in Group G. The manager made his
name by helping the Portuguese side win Champions League in 2004, and
must battle his old club along with Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
After a one-year absence, Manchester United makes their return to
Champions League in Group B, pairing up with Eredivisie winners PSV
Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow, and Bundesliga runner-ups Wolfsburg.
Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger may have received the stiffest
draw, starting with perennial powerhouse Bayern Munich, who have bounced
the Gunners in two of the last three competitions, and Olympiakos and
Dinamo Zagreb rounding out Group F.
Check out all eight of the groups below.
Zenit St. Petersburg