European football has been back for some time. The Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have been underway for nearly three weeks now. But the start of another Champions League season, when the continent's premier clubs square off under the floodlights on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, that's when the term "European football" truly comes to the fore.
And every Champions League campaign begins well before the group stage's matchday one. Qualifying may have been happening since June, but it's the group draw, tonight in Istanbul, is truly the beginning of all 32 participating clubs' journey to the final on June 10 -- back here, in the biggest city in Turkey.
Are you feeling the hype yet? Join us in the celebrations, as we bring you all the buzz, buildup and bravado as UEFA sets the field for the 2022-23 Champions League.
19.04 BST: All right, ladies and gentlemen, that's going to do it for this live blog following along the Champions League group stage draw. Thank you all very much for joining us, and check back throughout the day as we bring you more reaction and analysis to this year's competition.
18.59 BST: Thomas Muller is ready to be reunited with his former No. 9. Bayern vs. Barca, folks, put it on your calendars.
"Mr Lewangoalski, see you soon in Munich."— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 25, 2022
Thomas Muller is a big fan of the UCL draw 😂
(via esmuellert/IG) pic.twitter.com/xrqcVc4BYY
18.57 BST: According to FiveThirtyEight's Soccer Power Index, Group A (Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli, Rangers) is the most difficult group in this year's competition, followed by Group C (Bayern, Barca, Inter, Viktoria Plzen) and Group E (Milan, Chelsea, Salzburg, Zagreb). The easiest group, by quite some margin, is Group H (PSG, Juve, Benfica, Maccabi Haifa).
18.52 BST: More good news for that down-on-their-luck Real Madrid club: Not only does Group F have the most titles in this year's Champions League (15), seven previous winners have come out of Group F, more than any other group in the history of the competition. It's all shaping up for El Decimoquinto in the Spanish capital.
18.48 BST: Group C is home to more former champions than any other in this year's competition: Bayern last won the Champions League in 2020, Barca in 2015 and Inter in 2010. The Nerazzurri may not mind such a strong group stage test, having beaten Barca in the semis and Bayern in the final on their run to the title under Jose Mourinho 12 years ago.
18.40 BST: According to ESPN Stats & Info, no group in this year's Champions League has more titles than Group F's 15. Let's break that down really quickly: That's 14 for Real Madrid, and one for Celtic.
18.33 BST: We have UEFA Coach of the Year awards as well, with England boss Sarina Wiegman winning the women's award after she led the Lionesses to an incredibly impressive European Championship on home soil, while Carlo Ancelotti won the men's crown having taken Real Madrid to a LaLiga-Champions League double.
18.27 BST: Our favourite Frenchman Julien Laurens is well pleased with Benzema's achievement. Enjoy a round of bubbly on me, Juls!
Kariiiiim The Dream!!! My guy!! Best player in the world by far! Well deserved. Hard work always pays off! Next, the Ballon d'Or bro 💪⚔️ @Benzema— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) August 25, 2022
18.25 BST: Staying in Spain, the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award goes to Karim Benzema. The 2021-22 campaign was one to remember for the Real Madrid captain, winning the Champions League, LaLiga and the Spanish Supercopa, as well as the UEFA Nations League with France.
18.21 BST: It was a heartbreaking spring and summer for Alexia Putellas, suffering a Champions League final defeat with Barcelona and then tearing her ACL on the eve of this summer's European Championship, but perhaps the 28-year-old can take some solace in having just been named UEFA Women's Player of the Year. She's the first player in history to win the award in back-to-back years.
18.16 BST: For our readers in the States, the nine clubs featuring American players were drawn into eight different groups, according to legendary statistician Paul Carr.
Somehow, the nine clubs with Americans went into eight different #UCL groups.— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr) August 25, 2022
🇺🇸 Only current potential matchup of Americans in the group stage is Weston McKennie (Juventus) vs Josh Cohen (Maccabi Haifa).
18.09 BST: On paper, Spurs' Group D assignment (against Eintracht, Sporting and Marseille) may look straightforward enough, but ESPN Stats & Information informs me that the north London club have lost both prior Champions League meetings to French opposition -- in the 2016 group stage vs. Monaco.
18.03 BST: The last time Celtic advanced to the round of 16, in 2012-13, they also shared group with a Spanish team (Barcelona). So, while a Group F draw with Madrid, Leipzig and Shakhtar may look daunting, history suggests this could suit the Scottish side down to the ground.
18.00 BST: That's it! The group stage draw is complete! Now, let's go a little further in depth in some of the tastier matchups we have in store this fall.
17.50 BST: Another immediate reunion, with Borussia Dortmund being drawn into Group G against Erling Haaland and his new club, Manchester City!
17.44 BST: Also, Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona?! Robert Lewandowski gets to face his former club (and Bayern's all-time leading scorer in the competition) right off the hop!
17.43 BST: Some truly mouthwatering matchups with Pot 2 in the books. PSG and Juventus have faced each other on eight previous occasions, but this will be the first they face each other in the Champions League. The Parisians are winless in those contests, losing six and drawing two.
17.35 BST: Dale Johnson with detail on where Liverpool can expect to land.
Due to pairing, Liverpool have to go into Pots A to D and will draw Ajax, Porto, Bayern Munich or Eintracht Frankfurt. #UCLdraw— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) August 25, 2022
17.32 BST: That's Pot 1 complete, with all eight clubs listed above.
17.29 BST: Ajax are the first team draw, they'll go into Group A.
17.24 BST: OK, it appears that we are actually on the verge of balls being drawn now. We'll soon know which teams will get placed in which group.
17.19 BST: The first award of the day goes to former Italian head coach Arrigo Sacchi. He receives the 2022 UEFA President's Award, which acknowledges outstanding achievements that transcend the sport of football. Sacchi won back-to-back European Cups with AC Milan in 1988-89 and 1989-90 and led Italy to a runner-up finish in the 1994 World Cup.
17.17 BST: The draw has officially started, yet Celtic have captured the mood rather perfectly, while we wait for names to be pulled from Pot 1.
17.06 BST: Our voice of the Bundesliga, Derek Rae, is ready to get this show on the road. But the drama, Derek! The drama! And the pageantry!
Some day they'll just decide to press a single button and hey presto, the draw is made in one move, in one second. #ChampionsLeagueDraw— Derek Rae (@RaeComm) August 25, 2022
17.00 BST: Places, everyone! Places! The show is about to begin!
16.54 BST: From the great Gab Marcotti: "This year's draw, like last few years, is in Istanbul. Not many media in attendance, relative to where they traditionally host it: Monaco. Further away, more expensive flight and fewer Prince Alberts ..."
16.45 BST: Need a refresher on how these 32 teams landed in Pots 1, 2, 3 and 4? Dale Johnson explains where Europe's domestic champions qualify and how UEFA's coefficient has set the stage for today's draw. Read the full story.
16.39 BST: This is where the magic is about to happen.
16.28 BST: These are the pots all 32 clubs will be drawn from, with each group containing one team from each pot.
16.21 BST: Not a single name has been drawn yet, but we can already reveal a few insights about which groups some teams will land in, and how the scheduling will unfold throughout the group stage. Our Dale Johnson details which teams cannot be grouped together, and which cannot be scheduled to play on the same night.
Man City & Liverpool— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) August 25, 2022
Chelsea & Tottenham
Real Madrid & Barcelona
Atletico Madrid & Sevilla
AC Milan & Napoli
Juventus & Inter
Bayern & Dortmund
Frankfurt & Leipzig
PSG & Marseille
Porto & Benfica
Rangers & Celtic https://t.co/Mc5JfYGPSV
16.07 BST: Before we get too carried away with the 2022-23 edition of the tournament, let's take a moment to reflect on last season's Champions League. UEFA have released their annual technical report of the previous campaign's competition, and we've compiled the key takeaways from all 106 pages of analysis. Read the full story.
16.00 BST: Right, we are an hour away from the draw kicking into high gear, but let's get this party started. Our Gab Marcotti is on the ground in Istanbul, sending along every last detail, so you don't miss a moment of the day's big event.
Seagull + Stadium.... pic.twitter.com/uR9aWWE9yt— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) August 25, 2022