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With the 2015/16 European football season just about over, next season's UEFA Champions League group stage is slowly coming into focus. And so far, 22 teams have already booked their spots at the 32-seat table.
The round-robin stage is drawn using a series of pots filled with little plastic footballs containing the names of qualifying teams. The only pot already set to go is the one containing the champions of the top seven domestic leagues, which are determined using special UEFA coefficients, plus the current titleholder. Thus the following teams will make up pot 1: FC Barcelona (Spain), Bayern Munich (Germany), Benfica (Portugal), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Juventus (Italy), Leicester City (England), and CSKA Moscow (Russia), as well as defending champions Real Madrid.
Easily the biggest surprise at next season's tournament will be the appearance of Leicester City, which will be making its Champions League debut after winning this season's Premier League, also for the first time in its history. It is this very status as league winners that will keep them from facing FC Barcelona in the group stage. The two teams, however, are set to meet in the second match of the preseason, on 3 August in Stockholm, Sweden.
The rest of the teams will be dropped into pots 2, 3, and 4, based on UEFA club coefficients.
The second pot will contain the names of Atlético Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Sevilla, Napoli, and Bayer Leverkusen, with two more to be determined.
The third pot already has Basel, Tottenham, Dinamo Kiev, and Olympique Lyon, with four teams to be added.
Pot number four will hold PSV Eindhoven, Sporting of Portugal, Bruges, and Besiktas, with another four pending as well.
Up to 10 teams can still enter the Champions League group stage next season via a play-off — with five slots going to the winners of domestic leagues with lower UEFA coefficients (Champions Route), and another five teams coming from those which finished near the top in the three or four best major European leagues (League Route).
Teams with a chance of making it into the group stage include Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Olympiakos, Villarreal, Ajax, Roma, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Celtic, among others.
The road to the final in Cardiff begins at the end of June.
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