A big day in Istanbul today

When the draw for this season’s group stage is made in Istanbul on Thursday at 1600 GMT, Real Madrid and the rest of Europe’s elite clubs will be able to start plotting their path to Champions League glory.

If everything goes as planned, the journey will end back in Istanbul on June 10 next year for the final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, where Liverpool defeated AC Milan on penalties in 2005.

Istanbul was supposed to host the final in 2020 and again in 2021, but due to pandemic-related restrictions, UEFA moved the game to Portugal on both occasions.

Another late change was required last season, with Saint-Petersburg being stripped of the final after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Paris instead stepping in to host Madrid’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool.

The Spanish giants have now been crowned kings of Europe 14 times, twice as many times as the competition’s next most successful club, AC Milan.

In terms of the draw, Real Madrid are in Pot One alongside the champions of Europe’s other major leagues, including City, Bayern Munich, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, and Ajax, as well as Europa League winners Frankfurt.

Liverpool will be in Pot Two, which means a rematch with Real Madrid is possible. Chelsea, the 2021 champions, and Tottenham Hotspur are the other English teams.

Meanwhile, Celtic will be in Pot Four as they make their first return to the Champions League proper since 2017.

Because of the ongoing conflict, Russian clubs are barred from competing, but Ukraine, where a new domestic season began this week, will be represented by Shakhtar Donetsk.

Dynamo Kyiv, who faced Benfica in the play-offs, hoped to join them but were defeated 5-0 on aggregate by the two-time champions.

The final spots will be decided in this week’s play-off round ties, with Bodo/Glimt aiming to become the first Norwegian team to qualify for the group stage in 15 years.

What awaits all clubs involved is an intense two months of competition, with a World Cup in November and December forcing UEFA to organise all six matchdays in the space of nine weeks starting on September 6.

There will also be an international break during that time, and the demands on the players will be higher than ever, but the financial benefits will make it worthwhile for the clubs.

A UEFA circular sent to member associations in July detailed the prize money on offer this season, with a team winning the final earning around 90 million euros ($90 million).

On top of that, each country’s television market pool will be increased, as will amounts based on a team’s ranking based on performance over the last ten years.