Bundesliga champions Bayern will have to play Paris Saint-Germain, as well as RSC Anderlecht and Celtic. It is even harder for Dortmund though, who share a group with Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and APOEL.
Despite having been in the bottom pot for the draw, RB Leipzig will fancy their chances in their debut season in the competition. They have been drawn with AS Monaco, FC Porto and Besiktas JK.
A “spectacular draw” for Bayern
Bayern will expect to comfortably qualify from Group B, but after failing to top their ground last year they will face a difficult task to put that right this year. Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic described being drawn with the French giants PSG as “a spectacular draw,” whilst captain Manuel Neuer is anticipating “a cracker.”
After their capture of Neymar over the summer, PSG are one of the favourites to finally add their names to the European Cup, a long-stated ambition of their Qatari owners. The clashes between the two, the second and sixth games in the group stage, will be much anticipated. Bayern have only won two of their previous eight meetings, but they won the last although that was back in 2000.
Bayern will also face Belgian champions Anderlecht for the first time since a UEFA Cup last-16 tie in 2008. Bayern won 5-0 in Belgium to put the tie to bed early, although they then lost 2-1 at the Allianz Arena.
Remarkable they will play Celtic for just the third and fourth times in the group. Their only previous encounters with the Scottish side came in the 2003/04 group stage, with Bayern winning 2-1 at home before a goalless draw at Celtic Park, with Salihamidzic, who played in both of those games, saying that “it was the loudest stadium I’ve ever been inside.”
“It’s an exciting group with great teams, and PSG the pick of them,” said head coach Carlo Ancelotti, who used to be in charge in Paris, after the draw. Both he and Salihamidzic warned of underestimating the two weaker sides in the group, with the Italian describing their rivals as “three different but difficult opponents.”
Watzke hoping for heroes to rise from ‘group of death’
Dortmund will be reunited with Real Madrid in arguably the toughest group of the entire draw. They were in the same group last year, with both games ending as 2-2 draws and Dortmund eventually topping the group two points clear of the eventual winners. They have also met six further times in the competition in the last few years (with three wins and two defeats for Dortmund), whilst Real have never won at Signal Iduna Park.
Marcel Schmelzer acknowledged that Dortmund had been “able to rise to the challenge of Rael Madrid a number of times,” however he would have liked to “compete against other opponents” this time round.
Their opening match will see them return to the scene of the 2013 final defeat to Bayern, with Tottenham playing all of their matches at Wembley this season. Their confidence will be boosted though by the fact Spurs only won there once in five attempts last season. Dortmund’s only previous competitive meetings with them were in the UEFA Europa League two seasons ago, with Dortmund progressing 5-1 on aggregate.
Rounding off Group H will be APOEL, champions of Cyprus for the past five seasons. Dortmund have never played them, with the side from Nicosia only ever winning once against German opposition, beating Dynamo Berlin (then an East German side) in the first leg of a European Cup tie in 1980. They memorably reached the quarter-finals in 2012, eventually bowing out to Real.
“Our goal is to get out of the group,” said Schmelzer, “even though the draw has not been as kind to us as we had hoped it might.” However CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke insists that “heroes are born in such groups,” and he expects the Dortmund side to rise to the challenge.
Leipzig can’t wait to show their potential in Europe
Leipzig shocked the German football world last season by finishing second in their debut Bundesliga season, seeing them qualify directly for the group stages of the Champions League for what is their first season in European competition.
For that reason they have no previous experience of playing any of their upcoming opponents. They will embark on their first European adventure with a home game against last season’s semi-finalists Monaco, a tantalising prospect with two similarly youthful sides going head-to-head
Having avoided any of the major giants of the continental game, they will be quietly confident of progressing further in the competition. They will follow up the Monaco game with a trip to Istanbul to play Besiktas, before back-to-back games against two-times winners Porto, starting at the Red Bull Arena in mid-October.
“There are nice tasks waiting for us” said defender Willi Orban on the draw, and he is hoping that Leipzig will show the best of their abilities against “these seasoned teams.” Club captain Dominik Kaiser added that reaching the Champions League was “the most special step” the club had taken so far, and that “the anticipation is enormous” ahead of the challenge that awaits.
One team who have missed out on such an experience though is TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, following their defeat to Liverpool in the play-off round. They will though be in Friday’s Europa League draw, alongside 1. FC Köln and Hertha BSC.
Quotes via Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.