Manchester United have drawn Juventus in the Champions League group stage to set-up a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo.
With pressure and scrutiny building at Old Trafford, the club will now welcome back their former star after being drawn alongside the Italian champions in Group H.
Valencia and Young Boys complete the line up in that group, while Tottenham face a difficult task to progress from Group B after being handed a difficult draw.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will face Barcelona in mouth-watering Group B encounters, while PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan will also pose a threat in Group B.
Last season’s runners-up, Liverpool, were also handed a tough draw, landing French giants Paris St Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade in Group C.
Reigning champions Real will face Roma, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen, while Atletico Madrid are in Group A alongside Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Club Brugge.
Group D looks more friendly with Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke and Galatasaray, and five-time winners Bayern Munich have Benfica, Ajax and AEK Athens for company.
Europe’s leading lights are set to find out who they will play in the Champions League group stage on Thursday, with the draw set to take place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco (8pm UAE time).
Wednesday saw the last round of qualifiers for the group stages completed, with Benfica, AEK Athens, Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, PSV Eindhoven, and BSC Young Boys joining the teams who had qualified directly for the group stages.
Last year’s winners, Real Madrid, and Europa League champions Atletico Madrid took their place in Pot 1 alongside the league champions of the six top-ranked nations in UEFA’s ranking coefficient, with the other teams being seeded based on their historical coefficient.
Teams from the same country cannot be drawn against each other.
Here’s a look at the possible draw scenarios.
POT 1: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG, Lokomotiv Moscow
POT 2: Tottenham, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Roma, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica
POT 3: Liverpool, Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, CSKA Moscow, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia
POT 4: Hoffenheim, Inter Milan, Galatasaray, Club Brugge, Viktoria Plzen, BSC Young Boys, AEK Athens, Red Star Belgrade
Benfica securing qualification for the group stages meant Liverpool were knocked down to Pot 3, a turn of events that will have pleased none of the teams in Pot 1 (barring Manchester City) nor Liverpool themselves who now will face a European giant.
Given that Pot 2 is also full of such strong teams, whichever group the Reds land in is likely to have two other big names. The Spanish teams in Pot 1 could have a particularly hard time of it, as they could play Jurgen Klopp’s men plus any of the non-English teams from Pot 2, with a rematch of last season’s final between Madrid and Liverpool a distinct possibility.
Potential Group of Death scenarios also include Manchester United or Tottenham being drawn with either Bayern Munich or PSG, plus Valencia and Inter Milan – once managed by Jose Mourinho. Speaking of which, there’s also the possibility of the United manager facing another former club, Real Madrid, or ex-United star Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford with Juventus.
United could also be drawn with Red Star Belgrade, a tie that would be infused with history. This season marks the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, when United’s team suffered a tragic plane crash while returning from a European Cup quarter-final tie against Red Star in 1958.
Elsewhere, Gareth Bale missed both of Madrid’s games against Tottenham in the group stages of last season through injury, preventing a return to the club where he was once a hero. However, the match-up could be repeated this season.
The group stage will begin on September 18, and end on December 12, with the knockout stages beginning on February 12 and the final due to be played on June 1, at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
The draw for the pool phase begins at 8pm UAE time on Thursday at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco.
There are four pots of eight teams, with one team from each pot forming a group, although teams from the same association cannot face each other.
Premier League champions City, eliminated by Liverpool in the quarter-finals last term, are in pot one along with defending champions Real Madrid, Europa League winners Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Lokomotiv Moscow.
United and Spurs, who both exited at the last-16 stage in 2017-18, are in pot two, which also features Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Napoli and Roma.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will be in pot three alongside Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, Ajax, CSKA Moscow, Valencia and PSV Eindhoven.
Qualification for the group stage was completed on Wednesday evening when Benfica beat Greek side PAOK Salonika, Dutch champions PSV overcame BATE Borisov, and Red Star Belgrade defeated Red Bull Salzburg on away goals.
Serbian champions Red Star, winners in 1991, will be in pot four with Viktoria Plzen, Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Young Boys, Inter Milan, Hoffenheim and AEK Athens.
Thursday’s ceremony will also see the winners of the UEFA Player Awards announced.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is on the shortlist for the men’s player of the year award, along with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric.
Ronaldo – now with Juventus – and Modric were part of the Real Madrid side that beat Liverpool 3-1 in last season’s final in Kiev as the Spanish club won the competition for a third successive year.
The first round of Champions League group matches take place on September 18 and 19, with the final to be held at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on June 1.