The UEFA Champions League draw ceremony comes up tonight in Monaco, alongside the presentation for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, for which Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are in the hat with Atletico Madrid and France striker Antoine Griezmann.
But the real business of the day will take place when the balls are plucked from the plastic bowls to determine who Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid side will face in the group stage of this year’s competition.
There are a number of potential opponents to excite and appal Real fans, plus the possibility of an emotional reunion.
As champs, Real Madrid is one of the seeded sides in Pot 1 and therefore avoid Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich, Juventus — who knocked Real out of the competition two seasons ago at the semifinal stage — and PSG, who will be a force to be reckoned with now that Unai Emery is at the helm after winning three straight Europa League titles with Sevilla.
There are a few sides in the mix that Real will prefer to avoid when the stronger clubs are drawn tonight. Manchester City stand out as genuine title contenders this year, not so much because of Pep Guardiola’s arrival — he failed to get Bayern into the final in three attempts — but because of the firepower the Premier League side possess. Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Nolito have joined Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling in the City attack this summer and Guardiola’s side have scored 11 in three matches this season. If the clubs meet again, City can be relied on to shed the overcautious approach that they adopted in last year’s semifinals.
Both Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund can pose a threat on their day, though the latter has to be considered the more dangerous of the two because of Thomas Tuchel’s eyebrow-raising business in the transfer market; Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Ousmane Dembele and Raphael Guerreiro have added exceptional quality to an already strong squad, despite the departures of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan. Arsenal, who have been knocked out in the last 16 for five consecutive seasons, have done little to strengthen their own hand.