Liverpool landed a date with the reigning European champions Real Madrid on their return to the Champions League but Manchester City were again left cursing their luck after another demanding draw for the group stage of European football’s premier competition.
The Premier League champions might have hoped that a place in pot two would avoid a repeat of previous daunting draws at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Instead, Manuel Pellegrini’s team were paired with the German champions, Bayern Munich, for the third time in four years, CSKA Moscow for the second successive season and the toughest available team in pot four, Roma. It means a return for City’s midfielder Yaya Touré to the Russian club where he was racially abused by the crowd last year.
There was also a challenging draw for Arsenal following their play-off victory over Besiktas on Wednesday, with Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht the reward for their 17th successive season in the Champions League group stage. Chelsea, beaten semi-finalists last season, claimed arguably the easiest draw of the four English teams in the competition against Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor, the Slovenian team who knocked out Celtic in the qualifying stage.
City were comprehensively beaten 3-1 at home by Bayern last season but recovered from two goals down to triumph 3-2 in the Allianz Arena against Pep Guardiola’s side. Pellegrini’s team qualified in second place on goal difference behind the German champions, though would have topped the group and avoided Barcelona in the last 16 had they scored a fourth. Pellegrini later admitted he failed to make the calculation on the night.
Yaya Touré was racially abused by CSKA Moscow supporters at the Arena Khimki last season, with the stadium partially closed by Uefa for the Russian club’s next home game against Bayern as a supposed punishment.
Touré suggested black players would boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia should the problem persist and the return meeting will take place on 21 October.
Liverpool face a challenging trip to the Bernabeu Stadium on 4 November but, with the notable exception of Carlo Ancelotti’s holders, the prospect of a taxing group for a team in pot three did not materialise. Basel, who pipped Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool to second place in the group in 2002-03, and Bulgarian newcomers Ludogorets completed the draw for Brendan Rodgers’ side after a five-year absence from the Champions League.
Champions League group stage draw:
Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco
Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, Roma
Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, Apoel Nicosia
Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting, Maribor
FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE