MONACO - The draw for this season's Champions League group stage takes place in Monaco on Thursday, with a repeat of last season's final between Real Madrid and Liverpool among the potential mouthwatering match-ups.
Real won the trophy for the third season running -- and 13th time overall -- when they beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev in May, although their hopes of making it four in a row were hit by the subsequent departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and resignation of coach Zinedine Zidane.
With Julen Lopetegui now in charge, Real's status as holders ensures they will be one of the top seeds in the draw, which will begin just after 6pm (1600 GMT) at the Grimaldi Forum in the glittering Mediterranean principality. They will be joined by Europa League holders Atletico Madrid and the champions of the six highest-ranked domestic leagues in Europe.
None of the top seeds can play each other, so Real will not be drawn in the same group as Ronaldo's new club Juventus. Teams from the same country will be kept apart in the group stage as well.
But Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, five-time European champions, are among the leading names not in Pot 1, along with fellow Premier League clubs Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. They will all be hoping to avoid the biggest names in Pot 1, with Russian champions Lokomotiv Moscow the least imposing name of all the top seeds.
The Champions League is now dominated more than ever before by clubs from the continent's biggest domestic leagues. It was in August 2016 that plans were announced to guarantee four spots in the group stages to the top four leagues in Europe -- Spain's Primera Liga, Germany's Bundesliga, England's Premier League and Italy's Serie A.
Monaco. ☀️🌴😍— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 30, 2018
Today the #UCL group stage is set AND we announce...
... Goalkeeper, Defender, Midfielder & Forward of the Season 🙌
... Men's Player of the Year 🙆♂️
... Women's Player of the Year 🙆♀️#UCLdraw #UEFAawards pic.twitter.com/i4TkdDYDOe
In addition, three French clubs qualified automatically, although that was only due to Atletico winning last season's Europa League. As a result of the changes, only six clubs have come through qualifying round ties to make the group stage.
While the possibility of seeing a different name go all the way to the final becomes more and more remote, there are still plenty of fresh names appearing in the group stage. Former winners Inter Milan make a notable return to the competition for the first time since 2011/12. AEK Athens make their return after more than a decade, while Swiss champions Young Boys and German club Hoffenheim are in the group stage for the first time.
The first round of group games will be played on September 18 and 19, with the last matches on December 11 and 12. This year's final will be staged at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on Saturday, June 1, 2019.
The draw for this season's Europa League group stage, featuring the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and AC Milan, will take place in Monaco on Friday.
UEFA Champions League teams:
Pot 1 - Real Madrid (ESP), Atletico Madrid (ESP), Barcelona (ESP), Bayern Munich (GER), Manchester City (ENG), Juventus (ITA), Paris Saint-Germain (FRA), Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS)
Pot 2 - Borussia Dortmund (GER), Porto (POR), Manchester United (ENG), Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR), Napoli (ITA), Tottenham Hotspur (ENG), Roma (ITA), Benfica (POR)
Pot 3 - Liverpool (ENG), PSV Eindhoven (NED), Schalke 04 (GER), Lyon (FRA), Monaco (FRA), Ajax (NED), CSKA Moscow (RUS), Valencia (ESP)
Pot 4 - Club Brugge (BEL), Galatasaray (TUR), Young Boys (SUI), Inter Milan (ITA), Hoffenheim (GER), AEK Athens (GRE), Red Star Belgrade (SRB), Viktoria Plzen (CZE)AFP