This is the first year that the new seeding system for the Champions League group stages will be used. After complaints from Manuel Pellegrini among others in the last few years that the system previously used was unfair, the new way of seeding teams gives the league champions of the seven or eight countries with the highest European coefficients a theoretical advantage in being top seeds.
The change means that the situation Manchester City were in last year – facing both the Russian champions and the German champions in their group – cannot be repeated.
In practice, this means that this season the winner of the 2014/15 Champions League should be joined by the champions of Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia in Pot 1. Since Barcelona won last year’s competition, and no country may have two teams in Pot 1, the eighth spot goes to the champions of the eighth placed nation in European coefficients: PSV Eindhoven from Holland.
Pots 2, 3 and 4 are a much more familiar story, being based purely on each side’s coefficient. Arsenal and Manchester City will both be in pot 2, and will be joined by Manchester United should they make it past Club Brugge tonight. As with in previous years, teams from the same nation cannot face each other in the same group.
The new format means that some tasty pairings are a strong possibility. For example, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and FC Porto are three of the five possible teams Chelsea could face should Manchester United progress. Other possibilities depending on qualifiers include the reigning Europa League champions Sevilla, as well as Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk.
As for the other English teams, there is a mix of sides that they will desperately want to avoid form Pot 1, and teams who they really wouldn’t mind being in a group with. Alongside Barcelona, the English sides could face Bayern Munich, Juventus or Paris Saint-Germain; but would presumably much rather face Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg or PSV Eindhoven. None of the pairings are particularly easy, but with some strong sides in Pot 3 (Roma and Lyon to name a couple) potentially leading to the dreaded “Group of Death” scenario, they will want to avoid Europe’s absolute elite.