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Champions League draw 2017: Group stage rules and preview

What you need to know before the balls are drawn on Thursday.

UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League - Q1 and Q2 Qualifying Round Draw Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage concluded on Wednesday evening, setting the 32 teams that will go into Thursday’s draw. Most of the top clubs in the world that you’d expect to see are back — Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the like — but there are some new faces too.

APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus and NK Maribor of Slovenia are among the more obscure teams to make their way through Champions League qualifying, though both have been here before. The only new team to make their way through qualifying is Qarabağ FK of Azerbaijan. There’s one other newcomer — RB Leipzig — that qualified automatically through their position in the Bundesliga.

Because of the new draw format that was put into place last season, Pot 2 is extremely strong. The champions of France, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine are automatically placed into Pot 1, which bumps big clubs like Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund into Pot 2. There are also some strong teams in Pot 3, like Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Napoli and Roma, which sets up some potential group of death scenarios.

Champions League group stage draw rules

The 32 teams will be assigned to eight groups of four teams apiece. The top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout stage, while the third-placed team drops into the Europa League.

The draw will start with Pot 4, assigning each team from the pot into a group, then continue on with Pot 3, then Pot 2 and Pot 1. No two teams from the same country can be drawn together, while teams from the same country also need to be spread out across the schedule so they’re not overloaded onto one day and absent from another. This may lead to some of the teams in Pot 1 already having their placement determined before they’re even drawn, especially English and Spanish clubs.

Champions League group stage draw pots

Pot 1

Real Madrid (Spain)
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Chelsea (England)
Juventus (Italy)
Benfica (Portugal)
Monaco (France)
Spartak Moscow (Russia)
Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)

Pot 2

Barcelona (Spain)
Atlético Madrid (Spain)
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Sevilla (Spain)
Manchester City (England)
FC Porto (Portugal)
Manchester United (England)

Pot 3

Napoli (Italy)
Tottenham Hotspur (England)
FC Basel (Switzerland)
Olympiacos (Greece)
Anderlecht (Belgium)
Liverpool (England)
AS Roma (Italy)
Besiktas (Turkey)

Pot 4

Celtic FC (Scotland)
CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Sporting Lisbon (Portugal)
APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
Feyenoord (Netherlands)
NK Maribor (Slovenia)
Qarabağ FK (Azerbaijan)
RB Leipzig (Germany)

The draw will take place at noon ET, 6 p.m. local time in Monaco, and can be seen on UEFA.com.