GENEVA – Real Madrid’s route to retaining the Champions League title looks a lot like last year’s. Only tougher.
The two-time defending champion was on Thursday drawn again with Borussia Dortmund, which won their group last year and was unbeaten against Cristiano Ronaldo and friends.
Still, Tottenham is as classy as a third-seeded team gets, and fourth-seeded APOEL of Cyprus is a recent quarterfinalist.
“Heroes are made in groups like these,” Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said after UEFA made the draw in Monaco.
Madrid’s great rival Barcelona has a more routine path to the last 16. Though it could battle for top spot in the group with last season’s runner-up, Juventus, they should face few problems from Olympiakos and Sporting Lisbon.
Spain aims for a fifth straight Champions League title with just four teams in the 32-team competition, while England has five for the first time.
Tottenham, which should face its former star Gareth Bale with Madrid, was arguably the unluckiest of the English.
Manchester United and Liverpool received favorable draws in the groups which begin play on Sept. 12. The top two in each of the eight groups advance to the knockout rounds.
United returns after a one-year absence to play top-seeded Benfica – which it beat at Wembley to win the first of its three European titles in 1968 – Basel, and CSKA Moscow.
Liverpool landed with the weakest top-seeded team, Russian champion Spartak Moscow, plus Sevilla, and Maribor. Liverpool lost the 2016 Europa League final to Sevilla.
Barcelona beat Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final 3-1 with Neymar scoring to seal the win.
Neymar’s bid to win a first European title for Paris Saint-Germain after his record transfer will open in a group with five-time winner Bayern Munich plus Anderlecht and Celtic.
Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti is, like Man United’s Jose Mourinho, aiming to be the first man to guide three different clubs to be European champion in the competition’s 62-year history.
Chelsea, the last English team to win in 2012 – though after Ancelotti’s spell at Stamford Bridge and before Mourinho’s return – was grouped with Atletico Madrid, Roma, and Azerbaijani newcomer Qarabag.
The other newcomer, Leipzig, is in a balanced group with top-seeded Monaco, Porto, and Besiktas. In another rematch, Porto under Mourinho won the 2004 final against Monaco.
Shakhtar Donetsk heads another strong group with Manchester City, Napoli, and Feyenoord. Shakhtar continues to play home games away from Donetsk which is at the center of conflict between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Kiev’s Olympic Stadium will host the final on May 26 and could be an option to host Shakhtar group games.
Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow
Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic
Group C: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Roma, Qarabag.
Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting Lisbon
Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor.
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord.
Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, Leipzig. Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL.
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