While every sports fan wants to see their favorite team win the championship, European soccer allows clubs to chase an even bigger prize. Each season, a select group gets to play in the UEFA Champions League, which (theoretically) pits the best of the best from across the continent against each other. The winner gets to claim the top spot as Europe’s elite squad and all the bragging rights that come with the position.
And while talent ultimately matters, there’s a good deal of luck involved in that journey to the top. Ping-pong balls—and a few rules—determine who each club is going to play. It might feel unfair, but a favorable bounce can be the difference between a cakewalk and an early elimination.
With that luck front and center, here’s a look at the immediate winners and losers of the 2023 UEFA Champions League Draw.
2023 Champions League draw
Before going any further, let’s get the logistics out of the way.
The 2023 UEFA Champions League draw took place on August 31 and sorted the competition’s clubs into eight groups. The teams will compete throughout the fall and winter, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stage.
The draw unfolded as follows:
Group A: Bayern Munich (Germany) , Manchester United (England), Copenhagen (Denmark), Galatasaray (Turkey)
Group B: Sevilla (Spain), Arsenal (England), PSV (Netherlands), Lens (France)
Group C: Napoli (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), Braga (Portugal), Union Berlin (Germany)
Group D: Benfica (Portugal), Inter Milan (Italy), RB Salzburg (Austria), Real Sociedad (Spain)
Group E: Feyenoord (Netherlands), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Lazio (Italy), Celtic (Scotland)
Group F: PSG (France), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), AC Milan (Italy), Newcastle (England)
Group G: Manchester City (England), RB Leipzig (Germany), Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), Young Boys (Switzerland)
Group H: Barcelona (Spain), Porto (Portugal), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Royal Antwerp (Belgium)
So, who will be happy with that draw? And who will want a do-over? Let’s break it down.
Winner: Manchester City
While Pep Guardiola’s squad doesn’t need any help advancing, landing in Group G will make things that much easier. With all due respect to the opposition, the reigning Champions League winners shouldn’t have a problem with RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys.
Will there be some tricky matches in hostile environments on the cards? Of course; a trip to Belgrade will provide a test of the squad’s mettle, and the travel could result in some tired legs. In terms of sheer talent, though, City shouldn’t have an issue.
And when you consider that the English side will be chasing multiple trophies, this group could provide the perfect opportunity for rest. Expect Guardiola to rotate, especially toward the end of pool play.
Loser: Group F
To be clear, a Group C consisting of PSG, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle will be a blast for the neutrals. For the teams, though, it will be a nightmare.
PSG may struggle in Europe and is without Lionel Messi and Neymar, but Kylian Mbappe is an undisputed game-changer. Dortmund came within touching distance of a Bundesliga (Germany’s top division) title last season, and a trip to their Westfalenstadion to play in front of the iconic “Yellow Wall” will test anyone’s nerves.
AC Milan is coming off a strong season and, essentially, retained the services of Rafael Leao. Newcastle, which is back on the European scene, is a sturdy defensive unit with some good attacking options.
Individually, each of those clubs would like its chances to advance. Being drawn into the same group, however, means two teams will be going home unhappy.
The draw could also change the calculus for a club like Newcastle, which faces a dual challenge of playing in the uber-competitive Premier League and emerging from Champions League Pot 4. While it would be one thing to push for a chance to advance out of an easy group, will the current reality force Eddie Howe to reconsider his team selection? The last thing he’d want is to sacrifice domestic form for the Champions League, only to crash out with nothing to show for it.
At the risk of being England-centric, Arsenal received a relatively warm welcome back to the Champions League after what felt like an eternity in the wilderness. While there are very few easy matches at Europe’s top table, the Gunners will have to feel comfortable with the slate ahead.
And, as a bonus, drawing Sevilla, PSV and Lens will keep the travel distances manageable. That should help the squad as it collectively adjusts from the Europa League, where the starters could largely sit out the group matches, to the Champions League.
Pulling out to the big picture, the draw could also help the Gunners in another way. In previous editions of the competition, Arsenal had a bad habit of drawing either Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the Round of 16. If the English side tops Group B, though, that fate should be off the table; you have to assume that Bayern and Barca would win their groups, taking a Round-of-16 date off the table.
Zooming out to a larger level, things could get ugly for France.
First, the nation has only two teams in the Champions League: PSG and Lens. Marseilles, which finished third domestically last season, fell short in the qualifying rounds, landing them in the Europa League.
Moving on to PSG and Lens, neither team looks set to cruise through their respective groups. As already noted, the Parisians are in this year’s Group of Death, while Lens drew Sevilla, Arsenal and PSV. Both French sides could advance—and PSG always expects to make a deep run—but that fate is far from guaranteed.
While Champions League failures would dent national pride, there’s also something else at play: UEFA coefficients, which are a measure of how well each country performs in European competition. That number determines things like how many places each nation gets in each tournament.
Last season, France struggled in Europe and consequently saw its national standing slip to sixth place, falling behind the Netherlands. Given that next year’s Champions League will feature a new format and some additional teams, including an extra qualifier from the fifth-place nation, climbing up the power rankings is important.
When is Champions League Group Play?
Winners and losers are, at this point, conceptual. We’ll need to see what happens when the rubber meets the road during group play. But when are those matches?
While the exact matches haven’t been assigned to specific dates yet, we do know the Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the action will unfold. They are:
- September 19 and 20
- October 3 and 4
- October 24 and 25
- November 7 and 8
- November 28 and 29
- December 12 and 13
In group play, each team will play the others in their group twice. When that’s complete, the top two from each group will advance into the knockout round. The group winners will be seeded teams and unable to play each other; they’ll be randomly drawn against the second-place squads, and the tournament will continue from there.