England eyes Champions League revival with 5 in groups draw

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

By GRAHAM DUNBAR

AP Sports Writer

GENEVA (AP) England aims to revive a fading record in the Champions League with five teams in the group-stage draw for the first time on Thursday.

Liverpool's advance through the playoffs Wednesday means it joins top-seeded Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, plus Tottenham in the 32-team draw in Monaco. Man United enters as Europa League winner after placing only sixth in the Premier League.

Chelsea's 2012 Champions League title is the only English win in nine seasons and an era of all-Premier League semifinals has passed.

Now, Liverpool and Tottenham risk landing in a blockbuster four-team group as both will be drawn from the pot of third-seeded teams.

A powerful pot of second-seeded teams - who did not win their national league - features five of the eight teams highest-ranked by UEFA. They include Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

Real Madrid heads top-seeded clubs as the two-time defending champion, and fourth straight Champions League winner from Spain. Madrid is joined by Juventus, Bayern Munich and other winners of Europe's eight highest-ranked national leagues.

That top pot also includes Spartak Moscow, ranked No. 104 by UEFA, No. 18 Shakhtar Donetsk, and Monaco, which sold several stars after reaching the semifinals last season.

One year ago, Monaco was a dangerous outlier in Pot 4 because it had few UEFA ranking points from the five previous seasons in the Champions League and Europa League.

Leipzig could now fill that role in its European debut after being the surprise Bundesliga runner-up. Created in 2009, Leipzig did not exist when Feyenoord, the 1970 European Cup winner, last played in the group stage 15 years ago.

Leipzig and Qarabag, the 106th-ranked champion of Azerbaijan, are the only group-stage newcomers.

Germany has just three teams in Thursday's draw after Hoffenheim was eliminated by Liverpool. That won't happen again after new rules come into force.

From next season, the big four leagues - currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy - each get four direct entries to the groups and skip the playoffs. No two teams from the same country can be drawn in the same group.

Prize money is also set to rise in 2018 when more valuable renewals of three-year broadcasting deals kick in.

For now, each team in Thursday's draw will again get just a basic fee of 12.7 million euros ($14.95 million) from UEFA. More is earned from results bonuses and advancing through knockout rounds. The 32 teams share a total prize fund of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.53 billion).

The group stage kicks off on Sept. 13, and the final is played on May 26 in Kiev, at the Olympic Stadium which hosted the 2012 European Championship final.

It will be problematic for UEFA if either Moscow club goes all the way to the final in Ukraine's capital city.

Since 2014, UEFA has separated Russian and Ukrainian national and club teams in competition draws during an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

CSKA Moscow in the fourth-seeded pot must be kept apart from top-seeded Shakhtar's group when retired greats Francesco Totti and Andriy Shevchenko assist in the draw ceremony.

Seedings

Pot 1: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus, Benfica, Monaco, Spartak Moscow, Shakhtar Donetsk.

Pot 2: Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City, Sevilla, Porto, Manchester United.

Pot 3: Napoli, Tottenham, Basel, Olympiakos, Anderlecht, Liverpool, Roma, Besiktas.

Pot 4: Celtic, CSKA Moscow, Sporting Lisbon, APOEL, Feyenoord, Maribor, Qarabag, Leipzig.

This story has been corrected to show that prize money will rise in 2018, not 2017-18

Updated August 23, 2017