The draw for the group stage of the 2023-24 Champions League is done and dusted - and it is far to say that it was kind to some, but desperately harsh on others.
The big talking point is the 'Group of Death' involving Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle, but Manchester United have been given a very tough assignment, having been paired with Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid won't be looking forward to taking on Italy's fearless champions, Napoli, Bundesliga over-achievers Union Berlin and Primeira Division surprise-package Braga.
However, Barcelona will be breathing a huge sigh of relief right now after being thrown in with Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Antwerp, while Arsenal, Inter and Atletico Madrid will also be supremely confident of reaching the last 16.
Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers from Thursday's draw in Monte Carlo...
- Aaron Ramsdale's time at Arsenal is over - Mikel Arteta is right to favour David Raya in pursuit of Premier League and Champions League glory
- Man City have avoided their usual slow start - but ominous form doesn't mean Premier League title race is over already
- Give Casemiro more support, let Mason Mount replace Antony and don't give up on Erik ten Hag: Six things Man Utd must do to turn their miserable season around
- Real Madrid Player of the Season 2023-24 power rankings: Every Blancos player rated as Jude Bellingham confirms his superstar status
WINNER: Pep Guardiola
Manna from heaven for Pep Guardiola as he recovers from back surgery! The Catalan is due back on the Manchester City bench after the international break anyway, but as far as the Champions League is concerned, he could rest up until next spring if he wanted, with Thursday's draw meaning his side is already through to the last 16.
Indeed, it would be a surprise if City dropped a single point against Red Star Belgrade, Young Boys and an RB Leipzig side stripped of four of their best players during the summer. In short, a dream draw for the treble-winners - and their hopes of winning a quadruple this season.
LOSER: Manchester United
Welcome (back) to Hell, eh?! Manchester United fans of a certain vintage will have very unhappy memories of Champions League trips to Istanbul to face Galatasaray and, given Erik ten Hag's record on the road, it would take a brave man to back the Red Devils easing out of this group.
Bayern Munich are the tournament's second-favourites for a reason, while Copenhagen went unbeaten at home against City, Sevilla and Dortmund last season. United's Champions League return could yet be both brief and unpleasant.
WINNER: Harry Kane
United would have dearly loved to have signed Harry Kane this summer and, by all accounts, the former Tottenham striker was open to the move, as it would have allowed him to remain in his native England.
But things have worked out pretty well for Kane, as he still gets to play at Old Trafford this season - only for a team with a real shot at winning the Champions League in Bayern.
LOSER: Kylian Mbappe's PSG dream
Paris Saint-Germain have, for arguably the first time in their history, recruited sensibly during the summer transfer window. For once, they have a strong coach in possession of a well-balanced squad, which is just as well really - because getting out of their group will be far from easy.
Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle all have legitimate hopes of progressing, making this the deepest pool of talent in the tournament. Luckily for PSG, star forward Kylian Mbappe is still at Parc des Princes, but his hopes of winning the Champions League with his hometown club before he inevitably departs for Real Madrid have taken a serious blow.
WINNER: Diego Simeone's shot at UCL glory
The game appeared to be up for Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid just over a year ago. It was feared that things had gone stale at the Metropolitano, that he had taken the club as far as he could - which was pretty damn far, in fairness. Two Liga titles and two Champions League finals with Atleti is an astounding coaching achievement.
But could he yet get his hands on the European Cup? You wouldn't bet it against it now. With Antoine Griezmann having been revived by his World Cup heroics, Atleti were the best side in Spain during the second half of last season - and have hit the ground running this term. They've also got a Champions League group that they should have little trouble in topping. Simeone might not smile much, but you can be sure that the abrasive Argentine will be beaming right now.
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WINNER: Barcelona's bank balance
Oh, how Barcelona needed this! The Blaugrana are still recovering from the recklessness of Josep Maria Bartomeu's reign as president but have, on the field at least, put solid new foundations in place under coach Xavi that enabled them to win last season's Primera Division.
There are, though, still doubts over just how good Barca actually are - so such a soft draw is a most welcome development for the Catalans. President Joan Laporta needs all the money he can get now, so ending an embarrassing and expensive run of two consecutive group-stage exits will be a huge boost for the club's coffers.
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LOSER: Real Madrid
Real Madrid always find a way. It's what they do, particularly in the Champions League. They're the kings of Europe. But they definitely could have done with a softer draw.
Madrid have started the Liga season well - primarily thanks to new signing Jude Bellingham - but they're undeniably looking a little vulnerable right now, having lost Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao to potentially season-ending injuries, severely weakening Carlo Ancelotti's defence, while Vinicius Jr could miss a significant chunk of the group stage.
Madrid should still have enough to go through to the knockout rounds, but tournament debutants Union Berlin are a fine side that should not be underestimated, while Napoli will undoubtedly fancy their chances of beating Real to top spot in the pool.
Mikel Arteta certainly won't make the mistake of taking any of Arsenal's Group B opponents lightly. Firstly, there's the fact that the Gunners have looked less than convincing so far this season. Secondly, Sevilla are the reigning Europa League champions, PSV stormed into the group stage by routing Rangers, while Lens finished just a point behind PSG in Ligue 1 last season.
However, privately, the Gunners will be delighted with this draw, which honestly looks like a throwback to the early noughties.
Nobody expected Inter to make it out of last season's group stage, having been bracketed with Bayern Munich and Barcelona. This time round, though, they will be expected to cruise into the last 16, setting them up very nicely indeed for another serious crack at the title.
Inter fans will be the first to tell you that the club has not strengthened as well as they would have liked during the summer - Romelu Lukau's betrayal didn't help matters - but last season's runners-up remain a force to be reckoned with, as the first couple of rounds of Serie A has shown, so they should have little trouble getting the better of Benfica - whom they beat on the way to Istanbul - Salzburg and Real Sociedad.
LOSER: Gigi Donnarumma
AC Milan fans were devastated by Sandro Tonali's departure for Newcastle, but they didn't hold the midfielder wholly responsible for his sale - given it was clear that the club pushed him towards the exit because of the size of the fee on offer.
However, while Tonali might get some stick on his group-stage return to San Siro, compatriot Gigi Donnarumma will have to brace himself for a red-hot reception. The Rossoneri faithful have never forgiven the academy product for leaving on a free transfer for PSG in 2021, and even christened him 'Dollarumma'. Indeed, it would not be a surprise to see the goalkeeper showered in fake banknotes when he takes to the field at his former stomping ground.
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WINNER: Newcastle fans
Granted, Eddie Howe won't be pleased with the draw. He's under enough pressure as it is, with Newcastle having made a poor start to the new season. His Saudi Arabian employers will also be expecting the team to make a big impression on the Champions League, given the amount of money they've pumped into St James' Park. So, being lobbed in with knockout-stage regulars such as PSG, Dortmund and Milan is a nightmare for Howe.
However, the fans are going to have an absolute field day. Back in the Champions League for the first time in two decades, they're going to have a group stage to remember no matter what happens, as they'll be visiting some of the best cities in Europe. It'll be a case of ‘Roll on Matchday One’ as far as the supporters are concerned!
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LOSER: The Group of Death
There is simply no denying that the 'Group of Death' is the best thing about any draw. Everyone loves to see four top-drawer teams placed in the same pool, as it means entertaining games are guaranteed.
And just look at the excitement already being generated online by PSG being pitted against Dortmund, Milan and Newcastle. It's what the Champions League should be all about. The best playing the best - but in a situation of real jeopardy.
Sadly, we're unlikely to ever again see something like this year's Group F again, as next season will see the introduction of the stupid 'Swiss Model', which means more games, but far less drama.
So, enjoy it while you can. The current format undoubtedly has its flaws but it'll be a lot more enjoyable than what's coming...