26 Aug Tough Champions League draw
Pep Guardiola will return to Barcelona with Manchester City as well as tackling Scottish giants Celtic after being handed a tough Champions League draw.
The new City boss, who won the competition twice with Barcelona during a glittering four-year spell in charge at the Nou Camp, will face his old club in this year’s group stage.
City, Barcelona and Celtic were drawn together in Group C at Thursday’s draw in Monaco alongside German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach.
Surprise Premier League winners Leicester came out in Group G with Porto, Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen while runners-up Arsenal will face Paris St Germain, Basle and Bulgarian side Ludogorets in Group A.
North London rivals Tottenham, returning to the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season, will play CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco in Group E.
City director of football Txiki Begiristain, also a former Barcelona executive, denied the draw was the worst possible for his side.
Begiristain told BT Sport: “It is not a nightmare because we are in a wonderful competition. We are really happy but it will be very tough.
“We were in the semi-final last season and we want to be there again. It is an amazing competition, an amazing group.”
Not only will Guardiola, who also won three LaLiga titles at Barca, be familiar with the Nou Camp, but many of his players will know the territory too.
City played the Catalans in the last 16 in 2014 and 2015, losing the ties on both occasions. The games will also mean a quick reunion for goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with his old club, following his move to City on Thursday.
City also played Monchengladbach in the group stage last year, en route to the last four.
Celtic reached the group stage via a tortuous qualifying route involving ties against Lincoln Red Imps, Astana and Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Hoops defender Kieran Tierney said: “It is the biggest competition and we are delighted to be there, but we are not just there to make up the numbers.”
The draw was an exciting occasion for Leicester following their remarkable triumph last season. The seeding system meant they avoided many of the bigger sides and they may harbour realistic hopes of progress.
Director of football Jon Rudkin said of the Foxes’ trips to Portugal, Belgium and Denmark: “These are strong teams. We are certainly looking forward to playing on this stage and this platform and we look forward to the games coming to Leicester.”
Arsenal were pleased with their draw as they look to reach the knock-out stages yet again.
Club secretary David Miles said: “This is our 19th consecutive season in the Champions League and of those 19 years we have qualified from the group stage 16 times.
“We have good Champions League pedigree but of course recently we have met with Barcelona and Bayern Munich and unfortunately failed at that hurdle.
“It was nice to avoid those teams, in particular, and I think on reflection we are reasonably pleased with that draw.”
Spurs’ draw also seemed relatively kind and in Monaco they will be facing a side they beat 4-1 at home in the Europa League group stages last season.
Elsewhere in the draw, holders Real Madrid were drawn with Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw while last year’s beaten finalists Atletico Madrid were pitted against Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and Rostov.
No team have defended the Champions League since its inception in 1992 but Real Madrid’s Welsh forward Gareth Bale hopes his side can become the first to do so, with the final being staged in his home city of Cardiff.
“It would be amazing to experience a Champions League final in Cardiff,” Bale said.
“It is obviously a difficult group but it always is in the Champions League. We fancy our chances to get through but we know there are going to be some difficult games.”