Before the group stage draw, it’s good to know the 32 teams that will be playing in the Champions League, with Spain (Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao), Germany (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Leverkusen) and England (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City) sending four clubs each to the competition.
Dutch champions four seasons in a row, but couldn’t make it out of the Champions League group stage yet again. Sold Siem de Jong and most of their signings, once again, are young players (two under-18 players) who might be meaningful in a year or two.
The Cypriot champions were a Cinderella once, actually making it to the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2012. This year, they’re probably just happy about making it to the group stage of the competition, but any bonus will be nice.
The constant round of 16 team. Arsenal are heading into another season with plenty of talent and promise, but hardly anyone expects them to actually succeed. They’ve added Alexis Sanchez to the team, but Olivier Giroud is now injured until 2015. They made it to the round of 16 last season, knocked out by Bayern Munich.
It’s hard to understand how Monaco are in the Champions League with all of their financial losses. They finished second last season in France, and haven’t made any substantial signings to make anyone think they have a shot of doing something special in the competition, especially after selling James Rodriguez.
A wonderful second-place finish and Roma are back in the Champions League for the first time since 2010-2011. They’ve added Juan Iturbe, Konstantinos Manolas, Radja Naingollan and Antonio Sanabria, selling Mehdi Benatia, hoping to have just as good of a season this year as well.
A name we’re not used to see in this competition, and considering their transfer policy, it’s a miracle they’ve made it into the Champions League, which should be of great help to their financial situation. They also made a lot of money by signing Ander Herrera to Manchester United, but basically this is the same squad from last season.
One of the more interesting teams going into this season. The defending Spanish champions and Champions League finalists, but also a team that had to replace a big chunk of their lineup. Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Courtois left to Chelsea. Simeone brought some talented players like Mario Mandzukic to help keep everything the same, but repeating while no longer being a surprise is often a lot more difficult.
They’re the Belarussian champions eight years in a row and are currently leading the table, getting a strong running from Dinamo Minsk. They beat Slovan Bratislava in the play-offs to reach the Champions League group stage for a fourth time, never getting past this round.
Finished 4th in the Bundesliga last season and reached the knockout stage of the Champions League, losing to PSG. This season? Started with a win over Dortmund away from home and have been busy adding players like Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Josip Drmic and Wendell.
Bayern have won the Bundesliga championship twice in a row and the Champions League in 2013. Last season they were crushed by Real Madrid in the semifinal, adding Mehdi Benatia and Robert Lewandowski among others to try and continue their home dominance while avoiding a similar exit in the Champions League for a second straight season.
At some point, replacing world class players at half the money becomes impossible. Dortmund lost Robert Lewandowski for nothing, and the additions of Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos might not be enough. They finished second in Germany last season and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, almost knocking out Real Madrid. The same achievement will be a great success considering their squad.
The 2012 Champions League winners made it to the semifinals last season, knocked out by Atletico Madrid. They finished third in the Premier League, but are off to a brilliant start this season with two wins. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois (returning from loan) have joined to make things easier (although Costa is now injured), while selling David Luiz, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba to improve their cash flow.
Not the best of starts for the defending champions with only nine points through the first five matches. They finished dead last in the group stage last season with 3 points out of 18. They haven’t made any signings this summer of significance.
Last year was the first time since 2008 in which Barcelona didn’t end up winning any trophy, unless you count the Spanish Super Cup as something important. Barcelona finished second last season in the Spanish La Liga, adding Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo, Ter Stegen, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen while selling Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas in hope of finishing a spot higher, and not to get knocked out in the quarterfinals like last season.
Champions in Switzerland for five consecutive seasons, Basel didn’t make it past the UCL group stage last season, knocked out in the Europa League quarterfinals. They’re off to a fine start this season as well with 15 points in six matches after selling Yann Sommer and Valentin Stocker during the summer.
Finished only third in Portugal last season and after getting knocked out in the Champions League group stage made it to the quarterfinals of the Europa League. Added quite a few players from Spain, including Adrian Lopez, Cristian Tello and Casemiro while selling Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando to Manchester City.
Finished second in Turkey last season, reaching the round of 16 in the Champions League, losing to Chelsea. Haven’t had any high profile exits except for Didier Drogba, and haven’t made any meaningful signings so far.
A weird season for Juventus. After three consecutive titles and not making it out of the group stage last season, it feels like they’ve gone backwards with the departure of Conte and the arrival of Allegri. Alvaro Morata and Patrice Evra should be meaningful additions, but there’s still the threat of losing Arturo Vidal to Manchester United.
Back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009 after finishing second in the Champions League. They’ve added Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert among others to try and make up for the departure of Luis Suarez.
The 2013 champions in Sweden and current league leaders with a 7-point margin, Malmo beat Salzburg to make the group stage for the first time. They are European Cup finalists from 1979.
Premier League champions in two out of the last three seasons, finally making it past the group stage last season. This year? They’ve added Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala, looking like they simply want to keep things as they are for now.
Easily beat Celtic to reach the group stage for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They’ve won the league in Slovenia four years in a row now, but haven’t had the best of starts in the current campaign.
Greek champions over the last four seasons, they reached the competition’s round of 16 last season before getting knocked out by Manchester United. They had to sell both Manolas and Samaris, while adding goalkeeper Roberto, Kasami from Fulham and Jorge Benitez from Paraguay.
Still stuck at the quarterfinals barrier of the Champions League, losing on away goals to Chelsea last season. They’ve signed Serge Aurier and David Luiz to try and get them through, but it’ll probably be enough for a third straight title in France, nothing more.
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
The Bulgarian champions three years in a row, they needed some special heroics from a field player instead of a goalkeeper, making two penalty saves, to knock out Steaua in the play-off. This is their first ever appearance in the group stage of the Champions League.
The defending European champions and a record 10-time champions in the Champions League and European Cup. They finished third in the Spanish La Liga last season and are off to a good enough start this year with an early win. Added James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas and Toni Kroos to a superstar team while selling Angel di Maria and Alvaro Morata.
Belgian champions three years in a row, they’ve added the talented Steven Defour this summer while selling Cheikou Kouyate, hoping that maybe this season they’ll be able to break out of the group stage.
Despite a rough start last season, made it to third in the Bundesliga and to the round of 16 in the Champions League before a humiliating experience against Real Madrid. What’s changed this year? Sindey Sam has arrived from Leverkusen and no one of consequence has left. Pretty much the same.
Things are pretty weird right now in the Ukraine, especially after Shakhtar’s stadium took a direct hit from the fighting going on between Russian insurgents and the Ukrainian army. They are the defending champions five years in a row, but still waiting for their big breakthrough in the Champions League, which won’t happen this season as well.
For the first time since 2010, Benfica finished first in Portugal last season. They made it to the Europa League final last season as well but lost to Sevilla. This season, no qualification is required of them in the Champions League, and are seeded first in the group stage draw. They’ve added 13 new players while selling the likes of Lazar Markovic, Ezequiel Garay and Jan Oblak, meaning not to expect great things of them.
It’s been a while since Sporting were in the Champions League (2008-2009 season). They finished second in Portugal, but can’t spend a lot of money due to huge financial problems, adding 10 players for the sum of £14.5 million, while selling Marcos Rojo, Eric Dier, Elias and Rinaudo for a lot more.
Last season reached the knockout stage of the Champions League only to lose against Dortmund, and finished second in Russia. Off to a perfect (5-of-5) start in the league this season, adding Javi Garcia and Ezequiel Garay over the summer.