UCL draw: Everything you need to know about the group stage

The Champions League’s group stage took shape on Thursday. Here’s what you need to know about this season’s group stage.  

The 32 teams participating in this season’s Champions League were sorted Thursday into their eight opening round groups in what will be squeezed into a nine-week schedule this fall because of the World Cup’s November start.

Real Madrid, the defending champions, are favorites to repeat, joining Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain as the clubs favored to win Europe’s top club competition.

Man City and PSG have never won the trophy, but are among the favorites given their competitive rosters. English clubs in general, like last season’s runners up Liverpool, are also favored given that they play in the Premier League, arguably the best domestic competition on the planet.

The draw was held in the Turkish city of Istanbul, home of this season’s UCL final slated to take place at Ataturk Olympic Stadium. The final is slated for June 10.

Here’s what you need to know about the group stage.

What do the groups look like? 

Group A: Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli and Glasgow Rangers
Group B: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Club Brugge
Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen
Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham, Sporting CP and Olympique Marseille
Group E: AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb
Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic
Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and Copenhagen
Group H: Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa

When will the matches be played? 

Matchday 1: Sept. 6-7
Matchday 2: Sept. 13-14
Matchday 3: Oct. 4-5
Matchday 4: Oct. 11-12
Matchday 5: Oct. 25-26
Matchday 6: Nov. 1-2

How do teams advance? 

The top two teams from each group, a total of 16, advance to the round of 16 after playing the six matchdays. The round of 16 is part of the knockout stage, which culminates with two teams reaching the final.

What’s new this season? 

UEFA has banned Russian clubs from the competition because of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result, Scottish champions Celtic — along with Ukraine’s league champions Shakhtar Donetsk — all entered the group stage automatically rather than through the playoff round.

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