English clubs dominated the Champions League last season as Liverpool won the competition for the sixth time in their history after beating Tottenham in Madrid.
Three months on from the final and the draw for the group stage of this season’s competition gets underway on Thursday ahead of September’s opening round of fixtures.
Liverpool will hope to become just the second team to retain the Champions League in its modern format, but Manchester City are the favourites with bookmakers to win the tournament and conquer Europe for the first time in their history.
Sportsmail examines the credentials of each side in Thursday’s draw to find out who are the strongest sides in this season’s competition and who could be facing an early exit…
Liverpool won last season’s Champions League after beating Tottenham 2-0 in the final
After lifting the Champions League in June, it was as surprise that Jurgen Klopp added just two low key signings to his squad this summer. But the Reds have started this season as they ended the last with their blend of pace and pressing yielding three consecutive Premier League wins and it is that formula that marks them out as one of the favourites to win this year’s competition.
Mane is arguably the most in-form forward in Europe after a blistering start this term.
Only AC Milan and Real Madrid have won the competition more times in their history.
If they keep their key men fit Liverpool have a strong chance of retaining the trophy.
A two-window transfer ban has left Frank Lampard facing arguably the most difficult job of any Chelsea manager in the Roman Abramovich era. His decision to put his faith in youth has yielded mixed results so far, with a win, a draw and a loss from his opening three Premier League games and Europe could be an unfortunate distraction from the task of finishing in the top four with a small squad.
Chelsea will need all of his experience and durability if they’re to progress.
Chelsea have won the competition once (2012) and lifted the Europa League last season.
A lack of goals and squad depth mean Chelsea won’t be among the favourites.
Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban means Frank Lampard has a tough job on his hands
For all of their domestic success in recent years, Manchester City continue to disappoint on the European stage having been knocked out of the competition by Tottenham in the quarter-finals last season. Pep Guardiola has insisted the Premier League is again his priority this season but with the quality at his disposal, anything other than an appearance in the final this term will be regarded as a failure.
Sterling has started the season as a false nine and already has six goals to his name.
City are serial underachievers in Europe and are yet to win the Champions League.
They have arguably the best squad in this season’s competition – this could be their year.
Raheem Sterling has emerged as Manchester City’s biggest threat in a new false nine role
After winning the first leg of their semi-final with Liverpool 3-0 last season, Barcelona looked on course to win the tournament for a fifth time. A shock 4-0 defeat at Anfield left them stunned, but Barca did at least win La Liga and the signing of Antoine Griezmann means they will have the strongest frontline in Europe when the Frenchman lines up alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
If Messi plays well, Barcelona are a threat against anyone, regardless of form.
Barcelona have won the competition five times in their history – the last coming in 2015.
Their frontline alone means they should be a certainty to reach the latter stages.
The retirement of Arjen Robben and departure of Franck Ribery mean Bayern Munich are a side in transition heading into this season’s competition. The arrival of Philippe Coutinho should ensure Robert Lewandowski has a consistent supply line but the failure to replace Robben and Ribery following their failed pursuit of Leroy Sane could harm their chances of success in Europe this season.
If Lewandowski doesn’t fire, Bayern could struggle for goals in Europe.
Bayern have lifted the European Cup five times – the last coming in 2013.
A weakened attack means Bayern aren’t the force they were with Robben and Ribery.
Juventus are among the favourites to win this season’s competition after an impressive summer of transfer activity. The arrivals of Gonzalo Higuain, Matthijs de Ligt, Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey ensure Juve have depth in every area of the pitch, while the relentless performances of Cristiano Ronaldo mean the Bianconeri have a player with the know how to win the tournament.
Ronaldo is the highest scorer in the history of the competition. Enough said.
Juve have won the trophy twice but a last-eight exit last season was a disappointment.
Their squad is brimming with quality and depth in every position and must be considered a real contender.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League experience will be key if Juventus are to challenge
The ongoing saga over Neymar’s future has cast a shadow over PSG and also masked a savvy summer of transfer activity. The signings of Idrissa Gueye, Abdou Diallo and Pablo Sarabia signal a shift away from a strategy of pursuing marquee names for short-term success in favour of a longer term approach. But, despite the change in vision, PSG’s owners remain hungry for an elusive first Champions League success.
Arguably the world’s best player in 2018-19 – he must fire if PSG are to succeed in Europe.
PSG have never gone beyond the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition.
They have the firepower to beat any side in Europe but are still not streetwise in the latter stages.
Zenit’s tradition of signing big name South American players continued with the signing of Brazilian winger Malcolm, who arrived in a £40 million deal from Barcelona last month. Former Chelsea centre-back Branislav Ivanovic provides experience at centre-back, while Colombia international Wilmar Barrios is regarded as one of the best holding midfielders in South America.
The 6’5 striker is a handful and has four goals to his name already this season.
Zenit have never gone beyond the last-16 of the Champions League.
No club relishes a trip to Russia, but Zenit lack the quality to trouble Europe’s elite.
Last season’s Champions League runners-up, Tottenham, are in pot two in Thursday’s draw
Fifteen months on from Real Madrid’s 2017-18 Champions League success, the club remain reliant on the same familiar faces. The arrival of Eden Hazard from Chelsea will give them a new dimension in attack but Zinedine Zidane endured a frustrating summer as he tried and failed to sell Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez amongst others to free up space for new signings.
Madrid have struggled since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure – Hazard will be expected to fill his boots.
Madrid have won the competition 13 times – more than any other club.
Zidane must motivate a stale squad and hope Hazard adapts quickly if Madrid are to conquer Europe again.
Real Madrid will hope Eden Hazard adapts quickly after a disappointing summer window
No club in Europe has undergone a bigger overhaul this summer than Atletico Madrid. Following the high-profile departures of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and a host of other players, Diego Simeone brought in eight new faces, including Joao Felix for a club record £113 million from Benfica and Kieran Trippier from Tottenham. If they can gel quickly, another exciting season lays ahead for Atletico.
Atletico’s success will depend on Diego Costa’s goals and his partnership with Alvaro Morata.
Atletico finished runners-up in 2014 and 2016 but were knocked out in the last-16 by Juventus last season.
The firepower of Costa and Morata and Simeone’s tactical nous could see them reach the latter stages.
Dortmund have made a blistering start to the new season, scoring eight goals in their opening two Bundesliga games. In Jadon Sancho, Dortmund have the most exciting teenager in European football, while Paco Alcacer has given them the goalscorer they’ve craved since the departure of Robert Lewandowski. With Bayern Munich in transition, this year could belong to Dortmund.
Sancho’s confidence and trickery could unlock Europe’s best defences.
Dortmund have won the trophy once back in 1997 and finished runners-up in 2013.
Dortmund have the firepower and momentum to make a dent in this year’s competition.
In Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund have the most exciting teenager in European football
In Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli have a man in charge who knows his way around the Champions League. The Italian has lifted the trophy three times during spells with AC Milan and Real Madrid but it’s unlikely he’ll repeat that feat with his current club this season. The Partenopei have emerged as Juventus’ main domestic rivals after a second placed Serie A finish last season but will struggle to threaten in Europe.
Mertens has emerged as a prolific goalscorer since being converted from a winger.
Napoli won the Uefa Cup back in 1989 but have never lifted the Champions League.
Napoli have a talented starting XI but not enough quality to trouble Europe’s leading clubs.
Tottenham pulled off a small miracle to reach the Champions League final last season and it seems improbable that they will pull off that feat again. The signings of Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele will add quality to their starting XI but they still lack width, goals in the absence of Harry Kane and a plan B when their main man isn’t firing in front of goal.
When Kane doesn’t play, Spurs struggle for goals – he must fire for them to progress.
Spurs enjoyed their best ever European campaign last season after finishing runners-up.
Spurs lack the match-winners they need to pull off a repeat of last season’s run.
Tanguy Ndombele was one of two summer signings – but Spurs lack the depth to compete
It was hard not feel sorry for Ajax when Tottenham’s incredible comeback denied them a place in last season’s final. Erik ten Hag’s talented crop of youngsters beat Real Madrid and Juventus en-route to the semi-finals and Ajax have since lost two of the key men from that famous run. Matthijs de Light left for Juve, while Frenkie De Jong was sold to Barcelona, though they have reinvested in their squad with the signings of Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez and Razvan Marin.
Donny van de Beek
With De Jong gone, De Beek will shoulder the creative burden in Ajax’s midfield.
Ajax are four time winners of the European Cup but haven’t conquered Europe since 1995.
Ajax should reach the knockout stages but will struggle to repeat last season’s efforts.
The £113 million sale of Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid gave Benfica the funds to invest in the rest of their squad this summer. The club have continued their tradition of targeting talented South Americans, with Colombian Jhonder Cadiz and Brazilian strikers Caio and Carlos Vinicius all arriving at the Estadio de Luz and could give Benfica’s frontline a surprise factor in this season’s competition.
The Switzerland international scored 23 league goals last season.
Benfica won back to back European Cups in 1961 and 1962.
Could struggle to progress beyond the group stages without a favourable draw.
The Switzerland international Haris Seferovic scored 23 league goals last season
Shakhtar remain the dominant force in Ukrainian football having won the league title for the past three seasons. The club continue to unearth talented Brazilians, with Taison, Tete and Dentinho the leading names in their current crop, along with Brazilian born Ukrainians Junior Moraes and Marlos. Their attacking threat and geographical advantage mean Europe’s big boys will be keen to avoid drawing Shakhtar.
The attacking midfielder has been named Ukraine’s Footballer of the Year for the past three seasons.
Shakhtar’s best performance in the competition was a quarter-final finish in 2011.
With the right draw, Shakhtar could match their best ever Champions League finish.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide was Lyon’s big-money signing this summer they will be hoping he can make up for the departure of talisman and captain Nabil Fekir.
The former Celtic striker has started the season on fire scoring three goals in Lyon’s first three matches. He will be difficult to contain.
Lyon’s exit in the last four in the 2009-10 season is the furthest they have managed in the Champions League.
Capable of causing a shock as we saw at the Etihad last season but they are going to need a kind draw to progress from the group stages.
The former Celtic striker has started the season on fire scoring three goals in Lyon’s first three
Kerem Demirbay was Bayer Leverkusen’s biggest transfer this summer while Julian Brandt departed to fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund.
Being tracked by Europe’s biggest clubs for a reason. He is the man that makes it tick for the Bundesliga outfit.
Finished runners-up to Real Madrid in the 2001-02 season and won the UEFA Cup in 1988.
Once again unlikely to make it out of the group stage without a favourable draw.
RED BULL SALZBURG
Eight players in and 11 permanently out the door, it’s fair to say there has been major surgery at Salzburg.
Erling Braut Haland
He scored nine goals in one match in the U20’s World Cup for Norway earlier this year and the 19-year-old already has 10 goals in six matches this season. It would be surprising to see him at Salzburg next season to say the least.
They have never made it out of the Champions League group stage.
Haland might need to score nine in one match in order for Salzburg to qualify for the knockout stages.
Erling Braut Haland (right) scored nine goals in one match in the U20’s World Cup for Norway
Similar to Salzburg there have been wholesale changes at Olympiacos. 11 players in and seven out the door.
Youssef El Arabi
The 32-year-old has three in four games this season, two of which were crucial in qualifying for the group stages.
The Greek runners-up’s best finish in the Champions League was when they reached the quarter-finals in the 1998-99 campaign.
No opposition teams like facing the hostile atmosphere at the Karaiskakis Stadium but that is unlikely going to be enough to help them reach the last-16.
The biggest name to walk in the door at Club Bruges was Simon Mignolet, but they sold striker Wesley to Aston Villa.
Having fallen out of favour at Liverpool the Belgian goalkeeper has returned to his homeland to rediscover his form.
Club Bruges have never made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Let’s put it this way, Mignolet is going to have to make a lot of saves for Bruges to be a threat in this season’s competition.
Having fallen out of favour at Liverpool the Belgian goalkeeper has returned to his homeland
Valencia swapped keepers with Barcelona this summer as Neto moved to the Catalan giants for £23million and Jasper Cillessen move to the Mestailla for £32m.
Usually prolific in the Europa League and has already opened his account this season in Valencia’s opening game against Real Sociedad.
The La Liga side finished runners-up in back-to-back seasons between 1999 and 2001.
Europe’s top sides will be hoping they don’t draw Valencia from pot three but they will need a favourable group to make the last 16.
Romelu Lukaku and Antonio Conte are in the door and Alexis Sanchez is likely to follow. Big things are expected of Inter Milan this summer, it would be a costly failure if it doesn’t come off.
Antonio Conte finally has the striker he has been chasing for many years. He will be a handful for any opposition side.
Three-time European Cup winners most recently under Jose Mourinho in 2010.
Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez with Antonio Conte at the helm would scare any side. Don’t write them off qualifying for the knockout stages.
Antonio Conte finally has the striker he has been chasing for many years in Romelu Lukaku
The Croatian side’s biggest transfer this summer cost just over £2m. That tells you all you need to know about what Zagreb are up against this season.
The Bosnian has scored twice in qualifying and looks to be the Croatian side’s main threat.
The furthest Zagreb have reached in the Champions League is the group stage.
Probably the team everyone wants to draw in pot three.
Grzegorz Krychowiak was signed for £10m from Paris Saint-Germain to bolster up the midfield.
After winning the Europa League with Sevilla, Kyrchowiak had the biggest clubs chasing him. PSG finally landed him but the move didn’t work out and ended up moving to West Brom on loan. Now he is in Russia and Lokomotiv’s biggest name.
They reached the last-16 in 2004 before being knocked out by eventual runners-up Monaco.
A trip to Russia will not be appealing for many managers but they are going to struggle themselves away from home.
Grzegorz Krychowiak is in Russia and Lokomotiv Moscow’s biggest name this season
The Belgian side lost their star player in Leandro Trossard to Brighton this summer, how will they cope without him?
Five goals in six matches this season, the Tanzanian international will be one to watch.
They have not made it out of the group stage in the Champions League before.
They will certainly be aiming for a Europa League place anything more than that would be a shock.
Emre Mor and Jean Michael Seri are two big names in the door both of whom were signed on loan.
Jean Michael Seri
It didn’t work out for him at Fulham last season. But what did work for the Cottagers last campaign. If he can find his impressive form at Nice he will be a tough opponent.
The Turkish side reached the semi-final in the 1988-89 season.
No one wants to face the atmosphere at the Türk Telekom Stadium but they will need more than that to make the last-16.
If Jean Michael Seri can find his impressive form at Nice he will be a tough opponent
Ademola Lookman from Everton was Leipzig’s big-money deal this summer but their biggest business was tying down Timo Werner to a new contract.
The man that has been tracked for years by Europe’s biggest clubs has recently signed a new contract and looks hungry to improve.
The club were only founded in 2009 and have only been in the Champions League once previously in the 2017-18 season when they exited in the Group Stage.
Plenty of talented players that could cause an upset but they are going to be handed a tough group as they sit in pot four.
Three in and six out at the Czech Republic club this summer as they look to threaten Europe’s elite.
The big-money signing at £3m, all eyes will be on the attacking midfielder to be the difference for his side.
Slavia Prague have not made it out of the Champions League group stage before.
Europa League place will be the target anything beyond that would be a miracle.
Nicolae Stanciu is the big-money signing at £3m, all eyes will be on the attacking midfielder
RED STAR BELGRADE
The Serbian outfit signed Mateo Gracia from Las Palmas for £1.6m.
Remember him? The winger who signed for Chelsea but never really played? Well he is the shining light for Belgrade now.
They won the European Cup in 1991.
Beat the holders Liverpool last season at home. Their away record let them down. The hostile atmosphere at the Red Star Stadium is something to be wary of.
Luis Muriel was signed this summer by Atalanta from Sevilla for £13.5m
The experienced Serie A striker will be a handful for any opponent.
This is the first time Atalanta have made it into the Champions League having finished third last season.
You can’t write off a team that finished above Inter, AC Milan and Roma last campaign but they are the most inexperienced side in this competition.
The experienced Serie A striker Luis Muriel will be a handful for any opponent
The Ligue 1 side Renato Sanches for £18m from Bayern Munich. Can he rediscover his Benfica form?
He is the defensive midfielder that holds everything together and where all Lille’s attacks start.
The Ligue 1 side reached the last-16 in the 2006-07 season.
They sold their best player in Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal, they are going to struggle without him.