Real Madrid and Roma had already been drawn in Group G with Liverpool still in pot three.
The mouth-watering possibility of an opening day replay of last year’s controversial final between Los Blancos and the Reds was teetering on the brink of fruition. As well as a rematch of the spectacular Roma-Liverpool semi-final.
To further emphasise the drama the chief combatants, Sergio Ramos and Mohamed Salah, were sitting one behind the other in the front two rows.
But it wasn’t to be and CSKA Moscow drew the Group G short straw and the uphill battle to make the knockout stages.
Liverpool’s consolation prize of Group C however still offers an opening-day visit of glamour club PSG to Anfield, complete with superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Here’s our winners and losers list from the group stage draw.
FANS AND THE MONEY MEN
Apart from the narrowly missed Real Madrid-Roma-Liverpool triangle, the group stage draw has offered up some fabulous match-ups, chief among them Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford with new club Juventus, which happens on Matchday 3 on October 23.
Before that there are two showstopping opening matchday clashes with Neymar et al visiting Anfield on September 18 and Real Madrid hosting Roma the next evening.
Other big clashes to look out for include Spurs hosting Barcelona on October 3 in Group B, which shapes as one of the Groups of Death as it also includes a resurgent Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven.
The Inter-Tottenham clash, also on the opening evening, could be crucial in deciding that group.
Some Reds fans might be cursing the draw with Liverpool being pitted against Ligue 1 heavyweights, and one of the tournament favourites, PSG, as well as last year’s Serie A runners-up Napoli in the opening rounds.
But when Jurgen Klopp took the reigns at Anfield back in 2015, one of his aims was to return the Reds to the glory days when Europe’s finest were regular visitors to Merseyside.
With the likes of PSG and Napoli now due, as well as Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and Manchester City in the Champions League, the Reds can once again count themselves among the continent’s elite.
Now they just need to get their hands on some silverware.
With the Citizens returning to Pot 1 after a few seasons they reaped the rewards with a straight-forward group stage, pitting them against Shakhtar Donetsk, Hoffenheim and Lyon.
City are determined to hold on to their Premier League crown, and also keen to keep their quadruple hopes alive as long as possible.
They can now dedicate their considerable resources to the league and Carabao Cup during September and October, with qualification for the UCL knockout stages virtually assured.
Pep Guardiola will also be able to give a number of younger players as taste of UCL football, whom he may not have been able to blood if the draw had shaken out a different way. It’ll also keep the squad fresh for when the pursuit of the trophy heats up in the spring.
Could things get worse for Jose Mourinho?
After a nightmare start to the Premier League he now faces the very real possibility that the Red Devils will go out in the Champions League group stages.
Coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus was tough enough but Mourinho’s heart must have sunk when La Liga big shots Valencia were also drawn in Group H.
Last year United were vanquished by Spanish opponents Sevilla in the round-of-16 after a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in the second leg and Mourinho will be fearing the same this year.
The manner in which Mourinho set up his team to face Sevilla last season over two legs suggested he doesn’t believe his current squad can compete for the major prizes.
October 2 shapes as a huge day for United, who must strike first when they host Los Che on Matchday 2.
THE GALATASARAY DELEGATION
As the draw was unfolding it was clear that Group D was, how shall we put it, not as strong as the other groups.
With Lokomotiv Moscow coming out of Pot 1, Porto out of Pot 2 and Schalke out of Pot 3 you can safely deduce that all the teams remaining in Pot 4 would be desperate for Diego Forlan to call out their name.
The ‘lucky’ team selected was Turkish champions Galatasaray but when the camera cut to their delegation in the studio audience the image was galling.
The three smug gentleman, led by club president Mustafa Cengiz, sat smiling and nodding, even exchanging a celebratory handshake, as they congratulated themselves on ending up in the “weaker” group.
It would be very ironic for them to be eliminated in the group stage after so quickly dismissing their opponents.
Spare a thought for the Swiss champions, who after fighting their way through a tough playoff against Dinamo Zagreb to reach the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in their history, were rewarded with a place in Group H against Juventus, Manchester United and Valencia.
The Yellow and Blacks could easily end up with the dreaded bagel, zero points, at the end of their campaign – and may not even manage a goal.
The smart move would be to go all out on Matchday 1 on September 19, when they face Manchester United at home, hoping to catch the Red Devils in a complacent mood.
Some also might have more sympathy for Dutch champs PSV, who also came through a playoff, and find themselves in the very tough Group B alongside Barcelona, Tottenham and resurgent Inter Milan.
But PSV have been in the Champions League three times out of the last four years and even made the round of 16 in 2015-16, so they will give a good account of themselves.
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.