Monaco: Champions Real Madrid will play five-time former winners Liverpool while fellow Spanish giants Barcelona plucked big-spending Paris Saint-Germain as the Champions League group stage draw was made in Monaco on Thursday.
But the most mouth-watering draw saw 2013 champions Bayern Munich paired with Manchester City, Roma and CSKA Moscow in Group E. It is the third time in four years that Bayern and City will have faced each other in the group stages.
Bayern Munich's Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara (right) vies with Manchester City's Spanish midfielder David Silva during the UEFA Champions League group tie in Munich, southern Germany, on December 10, 2013. Pic/AFP
For English Premier League winners City, who failed to progress from the group stages in two of the last three years, it continues a run of tough draws at this stage of Europe's premier club competition. In 2011/12 they were paired with Bayern and Napoli and missed out on the knock-out stages after failing to beat the Italians at home. A year later they finished bottom of a group containing Real, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax as they failed to win a single game. Only last year, when they were also thrown in with Bayern, did City manage to get through the group stages and this time their job will not be simple.
But perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated group matches will see four-time winners Barcelona come up against PSG, who recruited Brazilian centre-back David Luiz from Chelsea in the close season. He will be meeting a familiar foe in new Barca signing Luis Suarez, the former Liverpool forward.
Four-time former winners Ajax, another of Suarez's previous sides, are alongside the pair in Group F, as well as Cypriots Apoel.
Real Madrid and Liverpool will be confident of progressing from Group B where debutants Ludogorets of Bulgaria, who were only formed in 20001 and whose stadium holds just 8,000 fans, and Swiss outfit Basel, who knocked out Manchester United at this stage three years ago, await.
Ludogorets's participation came in large part thanks to the heroics of defender Cosmin Moti. He was forced into goal in the last minute of extra-time of their play-off second leg 1-1 draw with Romanians Steaua Bucharest after goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov was dismissed in the final minute. The game went almost immediately into penalties where not only did Moti score his side's first spot-kick but he saved two of the Romanians to send the Bulgarians into the lucrative group stages.
There was a kinder draw, on paper at least, for 2012 champions Chelsea, who poached Germans Schalke 04, Sporting Lisbon of Portugal and Slovenia's Maribor in Group G.
Arsenal, bidding to reach the knock-out stages for the 12th year in a row, plucked Borussia Dortmund, the 2013 finalists, in a tough Group D with Galatasaray, who beat them in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, and Belgian giants Anderlecht.
Last year's runners-up Atletico Madrid, the Spanish champions, pulled Italian champions Juventus out of the hat in Group A, along with Greeks Olympiakos, who regularly struggle at this stage, and Swedes Malmo, the European Cup runners-up from 1979.
Portuguese pair Porto and Benfica were given manageable draws, the latter plucking Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao of Spain and Belarus representatives BATE Borisov in Group H.
Benfica, the twice former winners, were drawn against Russians Zenit St Petersburg, coached by former Porto boss Andre Villas-Boas, Bayer Leverkusen of Germany and Russian-backed Monaco in Group C.