Liverpool landed a date with the reigning European champions Real Madrid on their return to the Champions League but Manchester City were again left cursing their luck after another demanding draw for the group stage of European football’s premier competition.
“To be back in it again, no matter who we were going to play, it was always going to be exciting. But to have Real Madrid in your group, the champions last season, is going to be special,” Rodgers told Liverpool’s website.
“I’m already thinking of Anfield on that night. But there are two other good teams in it along with us. It’s a tough group but we’ll really look forward to the challenge of getting out of the group.”
Reds chief executive Ian Ayre added: “Is it going to be tough? Of course, but we wouldn’t be in it if it wasn’t difficult, fun and challenging and we have prepared ourselves well and have good preparations.
“It’s an exciting group, it’s our competition, we’re five-times winners and big nights against teams like Real Madrid is what it’s all about.”
The Premier League champions might have hoped that a place in pot two would avoid a repeat of previous daunting draws at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Instead, Manuel Pellegrini’s team were paired with the German champions, Bayern Munich, for the third time in four years, CSKA Moscow for the second successive season and the toughest available team in pot four, Roma. It means a return for City’s midfielder Yaya Touré to the Russian club where he was racially abused by the crowd last year.
There was also a challenging draw for Arsenal following their play-off victory over Besiktas on Wednesday, with Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht the reward for their 17th successive season in the Champions League group stage. Chelsea, beaten semi-finalists last season, claimed arguably the easiest draw of the four English teams in the competition against Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor, the Slovenian team who knocked out Celtic in the qualifying stage.
City were comprehensively beaten 3-1 at home by Bayern last season but recovered from two goals down to triumph 3-2 in the Allianz Arena against Pep Guardiola’s side. Pellegrini’s team qualified in second place on goal difference behind the German champions, though would have topped the group and avoided Barcelona in the last 16 had they scored a fourth. Pellegrini later admitted he failed to make the calculation on the night.
Yaya Touré was racially abused by CSKA Moscow supporters at the Arena Khimki last season, with the stadium partially closed by Uefa for the Russian club’s next home game against Bayern as a supposed punishment. Touré suggested black players would boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia should the problem persist and the return meeting will take place on 21 October.
The draw was especially painful for Ajax Amsterdam, which was drawn into a so-called group of death for the third year in a row. Ajax will play Barcelona and Paris St.-Germain, though it will be able to commiserate about its bad fortune with Apoel of Cyprus, the fourth team in the group. P.S.G.’s star striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, previously played for both Barcelona and Ajax.
“When our goal is to reach the next stage, it is tough when you draw Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain,” Ajax Coach Frank de Boer told reporters.
Champions League group stage draw
Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco
Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
Bayern Munich, Man City, CSKA Moscow, Roma
Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, Apoel Nicosia
Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting, Maribor
FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE