The draw for the 2023-24 Champions League group stage is done. Manchester City and Arsenal fans are rejoicing. Newcastle fans are grimacing. But are they right to do so?
Well, we can go beyond simple vibes to answer that question.
Using the Opta Power Rankings, we can quantify exactly how easy (or hard) each Champions League group is this year.
As a reminder, these Power Rankings rate a frankly enormous number of teams across the globe based on a system that scores the current strongest side as a 100 rating and the weakest zero. Those scores are then used to rank the teams in order of strongest to weakest. For example, Manchester City are rated as the strongest team in the world. They get given a score of 100.
We can then use these scores to work out the difficulty of each group.
The Hardest and Easiest Groups
OK, so maybe you didn’t need the Opta Power Rankings to tell you this one.
Every campaign has a Group of Death, and this season it’s Group F – a tasty group containing European powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Milan and Newcastle. Ask 10 people to put those teams in order from 1-4 and you may get 10 different answers.
Ironically, Newcastle – who were drawn last into that group courtesy of being in Pot 4 – are actually our highest-rated team in that group. It’s been over 20 years since their last Champions League game and that’s the thanks they get?
Group C is the second most challenging group according to the Power Rankings, with Napoli and Real Madrid – both rated as top-10 teams in the world according to our model – propping up a group that has an average team rating of 89.7.
On the flip side, in the absence of any real superpower, Group E has the lowest average rating of 86.1. It contains the second-weakest Pot 1 team in Feyenoord (86.7) and also contains Celtic from Pot 4, who are statistically our weakest team in the competition this season (81.0).
As we’ll see later on, being drawn into a weak group overall has some very positive consequences for all the teams concerned.
Which English Club Got the Best Draw?
The average rating for the opponents in each Premier League team’s group:
Manchester United: 87.0
Manchester City: 85.6
We’ve established that Newcastle got dealt an absolutely brutal hand.
If we just look at the average rating for the three other teams in each Premier League side’s group, then Newcastle’s average opponent difficulty of 89.8 is by far the hardest of their English counterparts.
The other three sides can largely be happy with their draw. Manchester United meet one of the big boys in Group A in Bayern Munich (our second strongest team in the world) but will feel confident of getting out of the group considering the other two teams are FC Copenhagen and fallen Turkish giants Galatasaray.
Arsenal will also be happy with their group. They got paired with the weakest possible side from Pot 1 in Sevilla and will again lock horns with PSV in European competition after both sides contested in the Europa League last season. Lastly, Lens bring up the rear. Mikel Arteta will be confident that he can extend his side’s current run of progressing past the first group stage in each of their last 17 appearances in the UEFA Champions League.
But it’s reigning champions Manchester City who have the easiest group. In RB Leipzig, Crvena Zvezda and Young Boys, their average opponent’s Power Ranking is just 85.7. That should be no problem at all for Pep Guardiola’s side.
In fact, in the current format of the competition (since 2003-04), Manchester City are the only team to win the UEFA Champions League having been drawn in Group G.
They’re in that same group again. Could lightning strike twice?
Who Got Lucky/Unlucky?
We can use our overall tournament simulator to work out the impact of the draw of each team’s probabilities of reaching the knockout stages.
As you can see from the graphic below, the draw was great news for sides in Group E – one of the weakest overall. Lazio and Atlético saw significant boosts to their hopes of making the last 16, while PSV got a big lift being put in the same group as Sevilla.
PSG and Dortmund … well. They got cooked. In getting Milan and Newcastle in their group, they managed to draw the strongest opponent from both Pot 3 AND 4, and as such, both sides have seen a big drop in their probability of qualifying.
Who Is the Favourite to Win the Competition?
Manchester City were already our pre-draw tournament favourites to win the whole thing, but a straightforward draw has only seen our confidence in them increase.
Guardiola’s team have a huge 36.1% of running it back next season, with Bayern Munich (10.2%) the next likely victors. Arsenal (7.0%) are a surprise third-favourite, but a favourable draw saw them jump Real Madrid into that spot.