clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Previewing the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League: all the teams

New, comments

All the information on the final 32 teams.

UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken - Mexico City Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

For those of you who are new to European Football, the Champions League is the cream of the crop. When all qualifications are complete, there are 32 of the best teams in Europe vying for the title of Europe’s best club. Real Madrid are the holders and have been for the past three seasons.

The teams are broken up into four pots, based upon their club coefficient that is determined by how they have fared in European competition over the previous five seasons. For example, Tottenham Hotspur have been a regular in Europe, whether it be in the Champions League or second-tier Europa League, since the late 2000s. Due to their recent performances, they fall into Pot 2, meaning there is less of a chance of drawing the dreaded “Group of Death”. Last year, Spurs were in such a group and managed to win it before being eliminated by Juventus in the Round of 16 knockout stage.

There are some rules based upon TV coverage that we won’t really get into as it can get complicated, but the big rule to know is that teams in the same pot cannot be drawn against each other, nor can teams from the same country association.

Pot One

Real Madrid C.F

Qualification: Champions of Europe
Home Ground: Santiago Bernabeu (81,044)
Association: La Liga (ESP)
Key Players: Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Thibault Courtois

The current holders have said goodbye to Cristiano Ronaldo, but this team is still loaded with talent, including former Tottenham players Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. Madrid spent the cash to bring in former Chelsea GK Thibault Courtois and may not be done with moves as rumor has them linked to Raheem Sterling at Manchester City. Madrid has been and always will be a tough out as playing in the Santiago Bernabeu is a tall order.

Atlético Madrid

Qualification: Europa League Champions
Ground: Estadio Metropolitano (67,703)
Association: La Liga (ESP)
Key Players: Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, Jan Oblak

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether or not the Europa League winners deserve to be in Pot 1, but Los Rojiblancos are here to make life miserable for teams in the group stage. World Cup winner Antoine Grizemann is lethal coming off the wing, especially when he has Diego Costa to feed the ball to. Jan Oblak is one of the sturdiest goalkeepers in the world and honestly does not get the praise he deserves.

Barcelona

Qualification: Champions of Spain
Ground: Camp Nou (99,354)
Association: La Liga (ESP)
Key Players: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Phillippe Coutinho

Barcelona almost quietly won La Liga last year as their early exit in the Champions League put a damper on their 25th league title. Lionel Messi is still there and still terrorizing defenses with his otherworldly ball skills, feeding striker Luis Suarez as often as he can. Ivan Rakitic turned down any move away from Barcelona to ensure that this attack remains powerful, even with Phillippe Coutinho available for selection. Needless to say, this team is stacked with talent and is one you probably don’t want to see unless the rest of your group is weak.

Bayern Munich

Qualification: Champions of Germany
Ground: Allianz Arena (75,000)
Association: Bundesliga (GER)
Key Players: Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels

Bayern Munich have run roughshod through the German Bundesliga the last couple of seasons, often having the league locked up sometime in March and being able to focus on cup competitions after. Munich fell short of the final last year and are no doubt looking to get back to the final since Wembley 2013 where they defeated fellow German side Borussia Dortmund. Robert Lewandowski has turned 30 but seems to be getting better with age like a fine wine. Manuel Neuer may not be the invincible wall he was a couple of years ago, but he’s still one of the best keepers in the world. Mats Hummels backs up a solid defense that can be very stingy.

Juventus

Qualification: Champions of Italy
Ground: Allianz Stadium (41,507)
Association: Serie A (ITA)
Key Players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic

Ronaldo has arrived in Turin, ready to lead Le Zebre to another Serie A title while hoping to get back to the Champions League final in the process. Juventus came up short against Real Madrid two seasons ago but with arguably the best player in the world in their attack, the game has changed. Paulo Dybala should benefit greatly from the inclusion of Ronaldo while midfielder Miralem Pjanic is one of the best in the business. Also, for the first time in twenty some years, Gianluigi Buffon will not be between the pipes for the Italian side as he transferred to Paris Saint-Germain to close out his career.

Paris Saint-Germain

Qualification: Champions of France
Ground: Parc des Princes (47,929)
Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)
Key Players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Adrien Rabiot

PSG have struggled to take that next big step in European competition, often finding themselves eliminated in either the Round of 16 or Quarterfinals in the last few seasons. The world record transfer of Neymar has helped solidify their place as the best team in France, but it has yet to translate to European glory. Thiago Silva is one of the best defenders in the world while Adrien Rabiot, despite the distractions that seem to come from his family, is a beast in midfield when he’s clicking on all cylinders.

Manchester City

Qualification: Champions of England
Ground: Etihad Stadium (55,097)
Association: Premier League (ENG)
Key Players: Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Ederson

The Citizens set a Premier League record for points earned last season, yet couldn’t get over that hump in Europe, finding themselves eliminated by fellow EPL side Liverpool. The Citizens are back and loaded, though, with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus available to lead the attack up top. All-Everything attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne is out for the group stages with a nasty leg injury but there is plenty of talent to fill in for him. The transfer of Ederson into the club solidified a weakness in net. If there is a weakness in this side, it’s the aging defense with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi both on the wrong side of 30, though Aymeric Laporte is more than ready to step into a full time starting role after transferring from Athletic Club Bilbao.

Lokomotiv Moscow

Qualification: Champions of Russia
Ground: RZD Moscow Arena (27,320)
Association: Russian Premier League (RUS)
Key Players: Igor Denisov, Vedran Corluka

The club that everyone will want to draw in hopes of sneaking into the Round of 16 are definitely the Russian Champions, Lokomotiv. A mild surprise last year, going from 8th to 1st behind head coach Yuri Semin, the club cannot be taken lightly with Vedran Corluka patrolling the back line. Igor Denisov might be 34 years old, but he’s a powerful defensive midfielder that is sure to give other teams fits.

Pot Two

Borussia Dortmund

Qualification: Fourth place, Bundesliga (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Westfalenstadion / Signal Iduna Park (81,359)
Association: Bundesliga (GER)
Key Players: Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic, Axel Witsel

Dortmund suffered through a rough campaign last season, falling into the Europa League before their Round of 16 elimination at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg. Dortmund also just barely qualified for the Champions League this season, finishing on 55 points in a dead heat with Bayer Leverkusen, but their superior goal differential allowed them to snatch that final spot, sending Leverkusen to the Europa League. Captain Marco Reus is being asked to do a little bit of everything, whether it be play on the wing, play striker or the ten this season based upon wherever they need him to be. American International Christian Pulisic remained in Germany for another transfer window and is certain to be a mainstay on the right side of the attack. The addition of Belgian International Axel Witsel strengthens a midfield that was in dire need of a boost, though this team still has holes.

Porto

Qualification: Champions of Portugal
Ground: Estadio do Dragao (50,033)
Association: Primeira Liga (POR)
Key Players: Iker Casillas, Vincent Aboubakar, Moussa Marega

The Portuguese Champions are back in the top competition for another attempt to breakthrough to the knockout rounds. After a down-to-the-wire battle for the Primeira Liga title, Porto look to pick up where they left off last season. Former Real Madrid man Iker Casillas is still in net for the side while the two-headed monster of Vincent Aboubakar and Moussa Marega are not a pair to be trifled with, scoring 47 goals between the two players in all competitions. For the traveling fan, the Estadio do Dragao is a gorgeous ground that should be added to anyone’s bucket list.

Manchester United

Qualification: Second place, Premier League
Ground: Old Trafford (74,994)
Association: Premier League (ENG)
Key Players: Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, David de Gea

It’s the dreaded third season for Jose Mourinho, which usually means a meltdown of epic proportions. There are early signs that this is going to happen again, with the Red Devils already struggling in domestic play. Success depends on getting the ball to Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in attack to try and score early. David de Gea, arguably the best keeper in the world, can’t do it all on his own given United’s shambolic defense. Once a terrifying name for any group, United are on shaky ground and maybe one of the weaker sides in Pot Two.

Shakhtar Donetsk

Qualification: Champions of Ukraine
Ground: Metalist Stadium (40,003)
Association: Ukrainian Premier League (UKR)
Key Players: Marlos, Taison

Shakhtar Donetsk won the Ukrainian Premier League by six points last season over Dynamo Kiev, who failed to become the second Ukrainian side to qualify after being eliminated in the final round this year by Ajax. The problem for Shakhtar this time around is that they were almost poached clean of some of their best players. Fred, Facundo Ferreyra and Bernard are all gone to Manchester united, Benfica and Everton respectively, forcing the club to find a way to replace the 44 goals scored between the three. Marlos and Taison will have to help pick up the slack in the attacking midfield while Gustavo Blanco Leschuk gets settled in up top.

Benfica

Qualification: Second place, Primiera Liga (Playoff qualifying round)
Ground: Estadio da Luz (64,642)
Association: Primiera Liga (POR)
Key Players: Eduardo Salvio, Alex Grimaldo, Jardel

Formerly known as Europa League Champions Until The Heat Death of the Universe, the Portuguese side has been really good at racking up silverware. They return to the Champions League after knocking off PAOK 5-2 on aggregate in the playoff round. Benfica are a very complete squad that can beat you in several ways. Eduardo Salvio is a threat to score from the midfield while defenders Alex Grimaldo and Jardel love getting involved in attacks. This is a side not to be trifled with as they always seem to cause problems.

Napoli

Qualification: Second place, Serie A (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Stadio San Paolo (60,240)
Association: Serie A (ITA)
Key Players: Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik, Simone Verdi

Napoli took Juventus almost to the end of the season last year but ultimately fell a couple of points short of a Serie A title, but a strong showing means getting back into the Champions League comfortably in Pot Two. Dries Mertens and Marek Hamsik are two of the most recognizable names in this side. Mertens is coming off a strong World Cup that saw Belgium finish in third place while Marek Hamsik, at age 31, is still showing no signs of slowing down. Simone Verdi, transferred in from Bologna, will be asked to fill the #9 role with Mertens.

Tottenham Hotspur

Qualification: Third place, Premier League (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Wembley Stadium (90,000) / Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (62,062)
Association: Premier League (ENG)
Key Players: Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli

Tottenham Hotspur make their third trip to the Champions league in as many seasons, bumping up to Pot Two for the first time in club history. After flirting with title runs in the Premier League two of the last three seasons, this once very young side is now experienced and is expected to live up to expectation and win some silverware. Harry Kane is arguably the best #9 in the world currently and is coming off a golden boot at the World Cup. Midfielders Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli help spearhead a versatile attack that includes Heung-Min Son, Erik Lamela, and Lucas Moura. Spurs are expected to play the group stage at Wembley Stadium and hope to have their new home in North London completed for the knockout rounds.

AS Roma

Qualification: Third place, Serie A (Auto-Qualification)
Ground: Stadio Olimpico (70,634)
Association: Serie A (ITA)
Key Players: Daniele De Rossi, Edin Dzeko, Cengiz Under

Give credit where it’s due: Roma was not expected to do as well as they did last season. An improbable run to the semi-finals where I Giallorossi almost pulled off a comeback for the ages against Liverpool included a solid third place finish in Serie A. Captain Daniele De Rossi has played his entire career for Roma and, even at 35, is still a fantastic player. Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Under will help lead the attack in hopes that Roma can get over that final hurdle and get to the Champions League final this time around.

Pot Three

Liverpool

Qualification: Fourth place, Premier League (Auto-Qualification)
Ground: Anfield (54,074)
Association: Premier League (ENG)
Key Players: Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah

Liverpool returned to the Champions League and went on a barnstorming tour, making it all the way to the final before Real Madrid finally knocked them off to take the title. The Reds’ success was led by Mohammed Salah’s return to the Premier League. All the Egyptian International did was set the record for most goals scored in a 38-match season in England with 32 goals. His injury in the UCL Final may have changed history as Liverpool were not the same without him. Sadio Mane compliments Salah perfectly while both can feed into Roberto Firmino. Virgil van Dijk is one of the two best defenders in the Premier League and helps shore up what was once a porous defense.

Schalke 04

Qualification: Second Place, Bundesliga (Auto-Qualification)
Ground: Veltins Arena (62,271)
Association: Bundesliga (GER)
Key Players: Nabil Bentaleb, Franco Di Santo, Matija Nastasic

Schalke 04 have gone through some trouble as of late, but a second place finish will cure what ails any club to get that injection of European cash. The club from Gelsenkirchen are showing that they are as good as they are resilient under Domenico Tedesco, even with some bumps along the road. Former Spurs youth Nabil Bentaleb is either going to play his way into a surefire starting role with this side or be fired out of a cannon into the sun given the trouble he had last year with Tedesco. Defender Matija Nastasic is a solid defender that Spurs have been linked to before and Guido Burgstaller is showing he can still score as he approaches 30 years of age.

Lyon

Qualification: Third place, Ligue 1 (Auto-Qualification)
Ground: Groupama Stadium (59,186)
Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)
Key Players: Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir, Bertrand Traore

France has turned into a shadow of the Bundesliga, featuring a steep drop off after the top three or four clubs. Lyon are usually in that top four group, sporting a solid squad that is the right mixture of experience and youth. Memphis Depay, Nabil Fekir, and Bertrand Traore are a pretty fearsome attacking three to deal with. Pay attention to youngster Lucas Tousart in the #6 role. He’s a tank for the French side and could find himself on the winning end of a huge move in the coming transfer windows.

AS Monaco

Qualification: Second place, Ligue 1 (Auto-Qualification)
Ground: Stade Louis II (18,523)
Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)
Key Players: Falcao, Stefan Jovetic, Youri Tielemans

Two years ago, AS Monaco were the surprise club in the Champions League, managing to get to the quarterfinal round as a pot four side. They were then picked clean of their best youth talent, including Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy and Tiémoué Bakayoko. Monaco has attempted to rebuild their side and haven’t done too badly. Radamel Falcao still leads this attack, though Montenegro International Stefan Jovetic will chip in goals with him. Everyone’s favorite youth player to sign in FIFA and Football Manager, Youri Tielemans, is a star in the making and could be the next young player plucked from the French side.

AFC Ajax

Qualification: Second place, Eredivisie (Third qualification round)
Ground: Johan Cruyff Arena (54,033)
Association: Eredivisie (NED)
Key Players: Matthijs de Ligt, Joel Veltman, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Give a tip of the cap to Ajax. It is not easy to go through the qualification rounds of the Champions League and make it to the group stage. Ajax had to win a couple of two-legged ties against Standard Liege and a feisty Dynamo Kyiv side. Joel Veltman and Matthijs de Ligt are two solid centerbacks with the latter of the two still growing and nowhere close to reaching his prime. Say what you will about Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but the man still knows how to find a goal at the right time and Ajax will still call on him in key moments.

CSKA Moscow

Qualification: Second place, Russian Premier League (Auto-qualification)
Ground: VEB Arena (30,457)
Association: Russian Premier League (RUS)
Key Players: Igor Akinfeev, Alan Dzagoev, Nikola Vlasic

CSKA found themselves a surprising second to their Moscow rivals, Lokomotiv, when the season wrapped up back in May. It was still enough to qualify for the Champions League, though one can bet CSKA want their title back in Russia. World Cup hero Igor Akinfeev had a fantastic summer, leading the Russian National Team to the quarterfinals. He is the unquestioned captain of this side. Alan Dzagoev is an do-it-all midfielder that has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Give special notice to Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic, who is looking to gain valuable minutes. He could be a shooting star.

Valencia

Qualification: Fourth place, La Liga (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Mestalla (49,500)
Association: La Liga (ESP)
Key Players: Kevin Gameiro, Michy Batshuayi, Geoffrey Kondogbia

Valencia return to the Champions League after a two year hiatus from the top competition in Europe. Valencia pulled away from Villarreal in the closing weeks of the La Liga season and almost managed to catch Real Madrid in the process. Newcomers Kevin Gameiro (Transfer from Atletico Madrid) and Michy Batshuayi (On loan from Chelesa) are sure to bring firepower to the Los Che attack. Midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia is 25 years old and could be on the cusp of a big move if he puts together another great season as he was heavily linked to the Premier League in the summer.

PSV Eindhoven

Qualification: Champions of Netherlands (Third Qualification Round)
Ground: Phillips Stadium (35,000)
Association: Eredivisie (NED)
Key Players: Steven Bergwijn, Luuk de Jong

The Champions of the wide open Eredivisie have survived two qualification rounds like their rivals Ajax to qualify for the group stages, including a two leg aggregate hammering of BATE Borisov, 6-2. Attacker Steven Bergwijn looks to be one of the focal points of the offense, teaming up with Luuk de Jong for a two-headed monster that will give other Dutch sides fits. The question is will it hold up against the best in Europe?

Pot Four

Viktoria Plzen

Qualification: Champions of Czech Republic (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Doosan Arena (11,722)
Association: Czech First League (CZ)
Key Players: Michael Krmencik, Daniel Kolar

The stingy defense of Viktoria Plzen only gave up 23 goals last season in 30 matches in the Czech First League, finishing seven points clear of Slavia Prague to take the title wire-to-wire, including a 14 match win streak to start their season. Michael Krmencik led the way last season with 16 goals across all competitions for the balanced attack while Daniel Kolar is one of the better midfielders you’ll see, even at age 32.

Club Brugge

Qualification: Champions of Belgium (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Jan Breydel Stadium
Association: Belgian First Division A (BEL)
Key Players: Ruud Vormer, Ethan Horvath

The Belgian First Division is always a wild one to watch down the stretch. Standing tall at the end of the campaign last season was Club Brugge, clipping Standard Liege by three points for the title and gaining that auto berth into the Champions League. Ruud Vormer is as tough a defender as you’ll come across, providing the backbone for the back line. You may get a chance to see USA International goal keeper Ethan Horvath if his growth continues to be on the uptick.

Galatasaray

Qualification: Champions of Turkey (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Turk Telekom Stadi (52,223)
Association: Super Lig (TUR)
Key Players: Tolga Cigerci,

Widely considered to be one of the rowdiest and most intimidating stadium atmospheres in the world, Galatasaray reclaimed the Turkish Super Lig title last season, nipping Fenerbahce by a mere three points. The challenge this season will be who can replace the 14 goals scored by Bafetimbi Gomis, who is now playing in Saudi Arabia. Midfielder Tolga Cigerci managed to score six goals in just 11 appearances in league play while Younes Belhanda may be asked to play more forward to try and shore up the attack. There are more questions than answers for this side going into the new season.

BSC Young Boys

Qualification: Champions of Switzerland (Final Playoff Round)
Ground: Stade de Suisse (32,000)
Association: Swiss Super League (SUI)
Key Players: Steve von Bergen, Guillaume Hoarau

Surprisingly enough, this is BSC Young Boys first ever appearance in the final 32 in the Champions League. They’ve had several appearances in the qualification stages, the most recent being in the 2016-17 season, but have found themselves usually in Europa League. The Swiss Champions finally made the jump and find themselves in the biggest club competition there is. If you want to see pure elation, check out their celebration when they locked down their spot. Captain Steve von Bergen bounced around Europe until he found his home with Young Boys in 2013, making 145 appearances for the club. Striker Guillaume Hoarau will be asked to shoulder the goal scoring load throughout the season.

Inter Milan

Qualification: Fourth place, Serie A (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Giuseppe Meazza (80,018)
Association: Serie A (ITA)
Key Players: Ivan Perisic, Mauro Icardi, Keita Blade

Inter Milan makes their return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2011-12 season when they were just two seasons removed from being European Champions. With the new rules in place that granted Italy that coveted fourth auto-bid spot, Inter are more than happy to accept it. Ivan Perisic is an all-everything midfielder with 30 goals in 109 appearances for the Italian side. Captain Mauro Icardi has waited his entire career to play at the highest level and will get his chance now at 25 years of age. Keita Balde, on loan from Monaco, is sure to make an impact in the attacking band this season.

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Qualification: Third place, Bundesliga (Auto-qualification)
Ground: Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena (30,150)
Association: Bundesliga (GER)
Key Players: Kevin Vogt, Oliver Baumann

Hoffenheim surprised many in Germany by turning a fantastic campaign into a third place finish to qualify for the Champions League, their first in club history. The question now is who will replace Serge Gnabry in the attack now that he’s returned to Bayern Munich? Midfielder Kevin Vogt is a fantastic talent that can terrorize and stymie any attack while goalkeeper Oliver Baumann is ready to prove himself on the highest level. If Hoffenheim can find some goals, this team may find themselves as a mainstay in the upper echelon of German football.

Red Star Belgrade

Qualification: Champions of Serbia (First qualification round)
Ground: Rajko Mitic Stadium (55,538)
Association: Serbian Superliga (SER)
Key Players: Nikola Stolijkovic, Jonathan Cafu

You’ve seen a few of these teams survive a couple of qualification rounds to make it to the big dance, so to speak. Red Star Belgrade has done one of the hardest things in European Football: Qualification for the group stage from the very first round that started back in July. Having to beat four different sides, including RB Salzburg, each across two legs is an incredible feat. It now means that teams will have to travel to Belgrade in one of the craziest environments out there. If you’ve ever watched an Eternal Derby between Red Star and Partizan, you know what I mean. Nikola Stolijkovic will try to lead the attack up front. Jonathan Cafu is a solid talent worth watching in any match.

AEK Athens

Qualification: Champions of Greece (Third qualification round)
Ground: Olympic Stadium (69,618)
Association: Greek Super League (GRE)
Key Players: Giorgos Giakoumakis, Petros Mantalos

It seems like yesterday when AEK Athens made their unbeaten Champions League run in the mid-2000s, and now it’s time for Enosis to come back to the Champions League, having started in the third round of qualification to get to the final 32. This balanced squad is led by captain Petros Mantalos, a quality midfielder who has been at AEK since the 2014 season. Youngster Giorgos Giakoumakis could make the jump this season up top, but it remains to be seen who will be the true attacking threats in this club.