Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal will be delighted with UEFA’s new seeding method as it ensured them the easiest group in this season’s Champions League.
In previous seasons UEFA seeded the draw purely using their UEFA club coefficient which measured a team’s strength by how far they progressed in European competitions over the previous five years. This season, the top pot was formed by the champions of the top seven associations; Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia – plus the Champions League winners. Since Barcelona won both the Champions League and La Liga, UEFA seeded the top pot with the winners of the Dutch Eredivisie, the eighth ranked league. That lucky team was PSV Eindhoven.
The remaining three pots were divided hierarchically by their UEFA club coefficient with the next eight highest ranked teams in pot 2, the next eight in pot 3, and so on.
The draw was held on Thursday and the groups are as such:
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana
Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent
UEFA’s club coefficient is generated by a team’s performance in Europe over a five year period. The further a team goes in either the Champions League or the Europa League the larger their club coefficient. Further, that number is cumulative, so that the longer and better a team performs at the highest level, the larger their coefficient.
By adding each team’s UEFA’s club coefficient we can judge how strong each of the eight groups are based on total coefficient in that group. Essentially, by adding all those coefficients we are measuring how experienced each group is at winning in Europe. In order of strongest to weakest they go:
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö — 371 total coefficient
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb — 352 total coefficient
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 337 total coefficient
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov — 332 total coefficient
Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach — 296 total coefficient
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana — 293 total coefficient
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent — 277 total coefficient
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg — 249 total coefficient
By this measure, Real Madrid have the hardest group and Manchester United have the easiest group. Real Madrid’s group is stocked with European experience: the Spanish club just won their 10th Champions League title two years ago and have the highest coefficient in Europe with 172. Malmo is a minnow club but PSG and Shakhtar combine to make a 186 point coefficient. This could be a good group to watch as Shakhtar might give PSG a real run for second place.
At the bottom of the table, Man U got the dream draw. PSV would have been put in pot 3 but for UEFA’s change of the rules this summer. And given that the Champions League winners often win their domestic league and that the Champions League winners are almost exclusively from the top four leagues, UEFA’s rules change in essence ensured one group would have two pot 3 teams. In this case, United’s group.
Further sweetening the pot for United is the fact that they purchased PSV’s top striker, Memphis Depay, this summer and VfL Wolfsburg’s top playmaker is going to be playing for Man City. If Manchester United don’t win their group handily it will have to be considered an utter failure.
That total coefficient table above is heavily weighted by teams with huge coefficients. Teams like Real Madrid and their 172 coefficient or Barcelona with their 165 coefficient push their groups artificially high making it look like they have a tough group. They don’t necessarily have the toughest group because they may actually be the thing making the group tough. So, if we subtract them out of the equation and average the bottom three teams the table looks like this:
Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach — 67 avg. bottom 3
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö — 66 avg. bottom 3
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb — 66 avg. bottom 3
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 65 avg. bottom 3
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent — 59 avg. bottom 3
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana — 57 avg. bottom 3
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov — 56 avg. bottom 3
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg — 49 avg. bottom 3
Now the table looks a little different. Man U still have an absurdly easy draw against their bottom three teams. Again, the easiest three teams they could possibly hope for. Barcelona also have an easy draw. But above them, Chelsea, Arsenal, and especially Manchester City all have tough groups.
In Group D, Manchester City have one of the most difficult groups in the competition. Manchester City’s group was seeded with Serie A winners, and last season’s Champions League runners-up, Juventus which could have made for an easier group since Juve has a relatively low UEFA Ranking of just 95.102 but as the luck of the draw would have it, Group D is comprised of three teams with a UEFA coefficient of 80 or more: Juve, City, and Sevilla.
Juventus lost star striker Carlos Tevez and kingmaker (not just a playmaker) Andrea Pirlo this summer and things could get easier for Manchester City if Juventus sell Paul Pogba to Chelsea as expected. Sevilla, however, are not going to be an easy team to beat — as their relatively high UEFA ranking suggests. They have a dynamic and powerful midfield duo of Ever Banega and Grzegorz Krychowiak
serving up assists to center forward Carlos Bacca.
Group F has the second highest total UEFA Coefficient at 351.963 but this is no surprise as the Gunners were drawn against Bayern Munich and their ranking of 154.883. But excluding the German giants, Arsenal’s group has an average of 65.693 which is the third hardest group by that metric.
Bayern Munich are expected to win Group F easily and that leaves Arsenal fighting with Olympiacos for second place. Arsene Wenger has never taken a single point against Olympiacos when playing in Greece, a record that the Gunner’s boss will be desperate to correct, no doubt.
Only the top two teams in each group advances to the knockout phase, or Round of 16. The teams that win their groups are seeded against the teams which finish second but they can’t be matched with a team from their own country or a team they faced in the previous round.
That means that if Arsenal advance, they will almost certainly be paired against another big club in the round of 16, where the Gunners have been eliminated in each of the last five seasons. Arsenal’s most likely opponents are Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, or Barcelona. It looks like the pain in Spain is in the cards for Arsenal this spring.¹