The UEFA Champions League shook out it's final contestants in another terrific playoff round. Locomotive Astana scored a late winner against APOEL FC to become the first Kazakhstani club in the Champions League. CSKA Moskva scored three unanswered goals to topple Sporting Portugal. BATE Borisov held off Partisan just enough to advance in their tie.
All the theatrics means one thing: the pots are now set for the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League Draw on Thursday. That means Bayern Munich are a step closer to figuring out who they are going open with as they try once again to get over the Champions League hump.
With the 32 teams set for the group stage, here is how the four UEFA Champions League pots shake out:
|Pot 2||Pot 3||Pot 4|
|Real Madrid||Shakhtar Donetsk||BATE Borisov|
|Atlético Madrid||Sevilla||Borussia Mönchengladbach|
|FC Porto||Olympique Lyonnais||VfL Wolfsburg|
|Arsenal||Dynamo Kyiv||Dinamo Zagreb|
|Manchester United||Olympiakos CFP||Maccabi Tel-Aviv|
|Valencia||CSKA Moskva||KAA Gent|
|Bayer 04 Leverkusen||Galatasaray||Malmö FF|
|Manchester City||AS Roma||Lokomotiv Astana|
Having faced CSKA Moscow and Manchester City each of the last two years in the group stage, the Rekordmeister have a new set of opponents they could face with the new draw structure. Domestic league Champions from Spain, Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, France, Russia, and the Netherlands make up the first pot. That drastically increases the likelihood Bayern will draw a Spanish or English, including Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and Arsenal, three perennial Pot 1 clubs under the old system.
With two German teams in Pot 4, Bayern will not face the Pot's best club like they did a year ago when they drew AS Roma. However, Moscow was the farthest Bayern had to travel before, but the Rekordmeister could now be headed to Kazakhstan or Israel as well as Turkey or Sweden.
Who do Bayern ultimately want to face in the group stage? Here are some best case/worst case scenarios to ponder.
Qualifying for the Champions League in La Liga is no small feat, but after the recent exploits of the other Spanish teams, Valencia is the runt of the litter. They did their best to not be though, making several of their loan moves permanent in the transfer window. The issue with Valencia, as with many La Liga clubs in this position, is how much they are relying on young talent to take the next step. If Rodrigo and Paco Alcácer stagnate their progression, Valencia will be in big trouble. Los Che obviously have a strong recent history in the Champions League, but this team now has little resemblance to the Valencia teams in o the past.
Also: FC Porto, Arsenal
Seeing a club lust for a perennial B-level league champion would not be a surprise. However, many of the clubs who struggle the most are Champions League newcomers. Lyon did have a good amount of Champions League success in the past, but their rebuilding project has turned them back into an unproven club. Outside of Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, Lyon is a very thin team, especially in defense. They are a team that will probably struggle in Ligue 1 this season, which means they will probably be unfit to advance far in the Champions League as well.
Also: Olympiakos, Galatasaray
Unlike other clubs in this pot, Maccabi plays like an intramural team would play. Their attack is rather disjointed, and some players try to put the game on their shoulders. Many of the moves they put on domestically and in qualifying would not fly against a top opponent in the Champions League. Sure, they advanced past a team that reached the Round of 16 last season, but Basel had several of its best players stripped from them and did not have any protection in front of their defense. Several teams will bulldoze over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League, and Bayern should be hoping they are one of them.
Also: BATE Borisov
Reloading is one thing, but what Atléti did was on a whole other level. The club clearly has a can feel the pulse of their problems last season, and they addressed almost all of them. They shipped out players who did not fit what Diego Simeone wanted to accomplish, and brought in a bunch of top players who could – Jackson Martínez for Mario Mandžukić, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco for Raul Jimenez, and Felipe Luiz for Emiliano Insua just for starters. This is a team that could be very dangerous if they click the right way, in more competitions than one too.
Also: Real Madrid, Manchester City
Facing the Europa League Champions certainly wouldn't be fun to face, but Dynamo Kyiv may have the best defense in the Champions League at the moment. Sergiy Rebrov has set up his team in a very stout way, even if it means sacrificing some midfield creativity for a strong holding midfielder like Sergiy Rybalka. Having quality attackers like Andriy Yarmolenko certainly makes the sacrifice a tad easier to make, and Miguel Veloso is creative enough on his own to drive the attack forward. They turned heads in the Europa League last season, and following in Monaco's footsteps is not out of the question.
Also: Sevilla, CSKA Moskva
The stability in Gent's team is phenomenal considering how chaotically they appear to be set up on paper. There is a method to Hein Vanhaezebrouck's madness though, which will make it hard for any manager to outthink him. His system plays with a lot of width, but clubs still find it hard to drill through their defense with how deep Sven Kums and Renato Neto usually play. They have not scored a lot of goals this season, but they will be hard for any team to break down.
Also: Dynamo Zagreb