The stage is finally set for the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League Group Stage draw, which is set to take place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Thursday. Tottenham Hotspur find themselves firmly in Pot Two this time around, a stark contrast to dodging bullets in Pot Three to try and avoid a possible Group of Death. There are still plenty of big teams left to draw, but Spurs’ are almost certainly are going to have a better draw this time around even if they handled their group last season without taking a loss. Let’s start by taking a quick review of the pots:
Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Lokomotiv Moscow
Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, AS Roma, Benfica
Liverpool, Schalke 04, Lyon, AS Monaco, Ajax, CSKA Moscow, Valencia, PSV
Club Brugge, Galatasaray, BSC Young Boys, Inter Milan, 1899 Hoffenheim, AEK Athens, Red Star Belgrade, AEK Athens
For those of you new to the sport, here’s how the draw works:
- Clubs are drawn into eight groups of four teams
- Six matches are played in each group, home and away with each club
- Clubs cannot be drawn against the same association (i.e. England vs England)
- Clubs in the same pot cannot be drawn against one another
- There are some weird TV viewing rules but that’s complicated and above my pay grade
So what does it look like for Spurs this year? Not bad, actually! Pot Two is a pretty solid group of clubs and Spurs avoid Dortmund, Porto, Napoli and Roma. One can make an argument that we’d want to see Shakhtar given their turnover, but they are ahead of us in coefficient and firmly Pot Two.
Let’s break this down pot by pot for best case/worst case.
Pot One Best Case: Lokomotiv Moscow
Duh. Lokomotiv were surprise winners of the Russian Premier League last season. They aren’t exactly a bastion of footballing talent, but matches with them seem to be a rough affair. The downside here would be the travel as it’s not exactly a stone’s throw from London to Moscow, but it’s not terrible. Lokomotiv is by far the easiest draw in this group.
Pot One Worst Case: Just about everyone else.
Look, we can argue until we’re all blue in the face about whether facing Real, Atletico, Bayern, Juve, Barcelona or PSG are better than one another, so it’s easy enough to say that drawing any of them will be a challenge. Then again, we had Real Madrid last year and took four of six points from the European Champions. Personally, I think the worst case is Atletico Madrid or Barcelona, but I know there will be disagreements.
Pot Three Best Case: CSKA Moscow or AS Monaco
CSKA are not good. Yes, they have Russian hero Igor Akinfeev in net who enjoyed an amazing World Cup, but this club is trash. Their attacking options are not great, their midfield regularly gets run over in Europe, and it’s a team that Harry and company should feast on.
Monaco are in the midst of a rebuild. Gone are just about all those names from two years ago that ran roughshod over Spurs and surprised everyone by getting to the quarterfinals that year. Yes, Falcao is still there with Stefan Jovetic, but it’s not like Kylian Mbappe or Thomas Lemar are still there. Personally, I’d like a little revenge on the French side.
Pot Three Worst Case: Valencia
This is a tough call. Ajax are back in the competition and are pretty good while Lyon is a solid balance, but Valencia are a tough order and have strengthened in the offseason. Our old target Michy Batshuyai is there on loan as well to run alongside Kevin Gameiro. Geoffrey Kondogbia is a handful in midfield to deal with as well. They aren’t a great side, but in pot three? This is probably as bad as it gets.
Pot Four Best Case: AEK Athens
The Greek side has returned to the Champions League and had to do it the hard way, going through qualification and coming up roses in the process. There aren’t really any household names here and look like your traditional pot four fodder.
Pot Four Worst Case: Galatasaray, Inter Milan, or Red Star Belgrade
To quote Menno in the writer’s room: I do not want to be the team that has to travel to Belgrade. Nor do I want to go to Galatasaray. Inter Milan are also plenty stacked with talent and are almost unfair as a pot four side.
So that’s your breakdown. I know we’ve all been using the UCL draw simulator to see what we come up with, but here are some possibilities based on some random attributes:
- The Group of Death: Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Schalke, Inter Milan
- The “easy money” group: Lokomotiv Moscow, Tottenham Hotspur, AS Monaco, AEK Athens
- The “Didn’t I see you in Europa” group: Lokomotiv Moscow, Tottenham Hotspur, Ajax, BSC Young Boys
- The shortest possible travel group: PSG, Tottenham Hotspur, Ajax, Club Brugge
- The frequent flyer mile group: Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, CSKA Moscow, Galatasaray