Champions League Group Stage draw: Key details and possibilities for Liverpool

JAMES NOBLE looks ahead to the Champions League Group Stage draw, and what possibilities it might hold for a Liverpool side eager to win back their continental crown.

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The draw for the group stage of the 2020/21 edition of Europe’s premier club competition – due to conclude at Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium on May 29 – will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, at 4pm BST on Thursday.

Liverpool will be part of it for a fourth consecutive season, after they reached the Kiev final upon their return in 2017/18, won the 2018/19 edition in Madrid and then exited at the Round of 16 stage at the hands of Atlético Madrid last term.

So who could the Reds come up against? When will the games be played? And — at least on paper — what are some of the potentially more advantageous and challenging scenarios?

The draw involves 32 clubs from across the continent.

Who Liverpool can — and can’t — play

UEFA will place each of them into one of eight four-team groups. To help do this, the teams are split into four pots of eight beforehand.

Pot 1 — essentially the ‘seeded’ teams — is made up of the previous season’s Champions League winners and Europa League winners, along with the champions of Europe’s six highest-ranked leagues — according to UEFA’s country coefficient — who hadn’t already qualified by winning of one of those two aforementioned competitions.


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The placement of clubs in the remaining three pots is then decided by their position in the club coefficient rankings — which is based on their performance in UEFA competitions over the previous five seasons.

Each group will feature one team from each pot — so no two teams from the same pot will face each other during the group stage.

No two teams from the same member association can play each other at this stage, either. A rule that is also in place for the Round of 16 draw. So Liverpool and Chelsea, for example, could not face each other any earlier than the quarter-final stage.

Another ruling relevant for this draw is that Russian and Ukrainian clubs will continue to be kept apart wherever possible. This has been the case since 2014 due to the ongoing political situation.

As champions of England, Jürgen Klopp’s side will be in pot 1 for the draw.

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Joining them in there will be Bayern Munich (Champions League holders and German champions), Sevilla (Europa League holders), Real Madrid (Spanish champions), Juventus (Italian champions), Paris Saint-Germain (French champions), FC Porto (Portuguese champions) and Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russian champions).

The Reds, therefore, will not be drawn against any of those seven sides. Of the 24 clubs across the three other pots, though, Liverpool could face 21 of them.

Pot 2 is made up of Barcelona (Spain), Atlético Madrid (Spain), Manchester City (England), Manchester United (England),

Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Chelsea (England) and Ajax (Netherlands).

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While Klopp’s men won’t come up against the three English teams in here, they could face any one of the other five sides.

Which means the Merseysiders could come up against any of the 16 teams across pot 3 and 4.

In the former there is Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine), FC Salzburg (Austria), RB Leipzig (Germany), Internazionale (Italy), Olympiacos (Greece), Lazio (Italy), FC Krasnodar (Russia) and Atalanta (Italy).

In the latter: Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia), Olympique Marseille (France), Club Brugge (Belgium), Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany), Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkey), FC Midtjylland (Denmark), Stade Rennais (France) and Ferencváros (Hungary).

Key dates:

As with many things this season, the Champions League group stage has a considerably more compressed look due to the later than normal start date.

They’re still aiming to complete it by early December but — rather than the six matchdays coming between mid-September and then, as usual — they’re being squeezed in from mid-October this time around.

That means there will be three consecutive midweeks of European football from late October to early November. After an international break, it will then be the same story from late November to early December.

It’s an exciting prospect but also one which will be a significant test of the participating clubs’ squads.

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Here are the Champions League matchday dates and those of the Premier League games which surround them:

Everton v Liverpool: Saturday October 17, 2020

CL Matchday 1: Tuesday October 20/Wednesday October 21, 2020

Liverpool v Sheffield United: Saturday October 24, 2020

CL Matchday 2: Tuesday October 27/Wednesday October 28, 2020

Liverpool v West Ham United: Saturday October 31, 2020

CL Matchday 3: Tuesday November 3/Wednesday November 4, 2020

Manchester City v Liverpool: Saturday November 7, 2020

Liverpool v Leicester City: Saturday November 21, 2020

CL Matchday 4: Tuesday November 24/Wednesday November 25, 2020

Brighton and Hove Albion v Liverpool: Saturday November 28, 2020

CL Matchday 5: Tuesday December 1/Wednesday December 2, 2020

Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers: Saturday December 5, 2020

CL Matchday 6: Tuesday December 8/Wednesday December 9, 2020

Fulham v Liverpool: Saturday December 12, 2020

Some of those Premier League matches could switch to Fridays, Sundays or — at a push — Mondays, of course.

However, a considerable positive of the four domestic fixtures which surround the Reds’ opening four continental clashes is that they won’t see Klopp’s side travel beyond the North West.

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They won’t, therefore, face the prospect of following-up a long flight across Europe with a trip to one of the more distant Premier League sides during this time.

The same cannot be said for the run of games after the November international break, though, with a trip to the south coast and West London on the cards after the fourth and sixth Champions League fixture respectively.

It’s a schedule which has the potential to be as punishing as it is enthralling. Who Liverpool are drawn against in Geneva will have at least some bearing on that.

So what could be some of the more sympathetic, or more challenging, situations?


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Standard of opponent and geography scenarios

These kind of sections always feel like they verge on disrespectful.

It goes without saying that any team who has qualified for the Champions League can be expected to be a tough opponent. Undeniably, though, there are always going to be sides who look that bit more challenging than some others on paper.

There is also geography and journey times to consider, especially when it comes to continental competition.

Each factor makes a difference but, at the same time, the healthiest approach for players, coaches and supporters is generally to take them in your stride.

It’s subjective, of course, but the toughest group Liverpool could be a part of might look something like this: Liverpool, Atlético Madrid, Internazionale and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Teams from the other three perceived ‘top leagues’ in Europe and, arguably, all sides on the up. Atlético knocked the Reds out last season too, of course.

These sides would present a variety of tactical challenges. Atlético and Inter possess plenty of experience and savviness both on the pitch and in the form of Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte in the dugout.

Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa have looked lethal in attack at times for Marco Rose’s Mönchengladbach, meanwhile.

One of the kinder-looking groups on paper may be something along the lines of: Liverpool, Ajax, FC Krasnodar and Stade Rennais.

Just ask their supporters though, they’re unlikely to agree.

Ajax continue to produce excellent young talent on a consistent basis — something we’re likely to see more evidence of this year — and they possess some superb more experienced players too.

They have, though, seen the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech and Joël Veltman depart over the last 16 months or so.

Krasnodar, meanwhile, completed a 4-2 aggregate victory over PAOK on Wednesday night to seal Champions League qualification for the first time in their history.

Founded as recently as 2008, they may lack experience at this particular level, but the side who finished third in the Russian Premier League last season are relatively experienced Europa League campaigners in recent years.

They would also represent one of the longest of the possible away trips, with the city stationed close to the Black Sea.

That could represent a challenge logistically, as could visits to the likes of Zenit Saint Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow, Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donestsk, Olympiacos and Istanbul Basaksehir.

They possess less pedigree than most of the other sides in pot 3, though, and Liverpool should have enough to overcome them.

Geographical considerations are something that may make fellow competition debutants Stade Rennais — based in the North-West of France — one of the more attractive opponents, meanwhile.

Despite the lack of a Champions League track record, they do currently sit top of Ligue 1 in France and possess a nice blend of youth and experience. Former Stoke and Sevilla man Steven N’Zonzi tends to anchor the midfield, while exciting young talent like Raphinha, Eduardo Camavinga, Martin Terrier and Sehrou Guirassy excels ahead of him.

They feel like one to watch, in truth, but Liverpool and others may be able to use their comparative experience to their advantage.

Whoever the Reds draw, and wherever they go, though, this season’s continental completion will be a unique challenge — and one they will want to meet head on.

Do that well and they may just earn another trip to Istanbul come late May.

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