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Five Aside: Real Madrid tipped to win UCL again; Group C is the hardest

Shaka Hislop and Alexis Nunes assess the toughest groups and most scintillating matchups this season in the Champions League.

The UEFA Champions League group draw took place in Monaco on Thursday (Matchday 1 kicks off on Sept. 12). Here are the top five takeaways.

-- Two-time defending champion Real Madrid's quest for a three-peat promises to be a difficult one, as the 12-time European Cup winners drew one of the most difficult groups. Madrid, which has the greatest chance to win the trophy (at 18 percent) according to FiveThirtyEight's Soccer Power Index, were drawn in Group H along with Germany's Borussia Dortmund, England's Tottenham Hotspur and APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus.

It's the second straight season that Madrid and Dortmund are drawn together. With these two matches, the clubs will have faced each other 10 times in the last six editions. The draw also means Gareth Bale will face his old Spurs team, which transferred him to Real Madrid in 2013 for a then-record $145 million after six seasons.

-- Barcelona will also meet with an old foe in the group stage. Their Group D rivals are Sporting CP, Olympiacos and Juventus, whom they beat in the 2015 final to win their fifth European Cup and fourth of the Champions League era. That is Barcelona's only UCL win over Juventus in five meetings. Last year, the Italians eliminated Barcelona 3-0 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

It's no surprise, but the back-to-back champions, Real Madrid, are fancied to win again in 2017-18.

-- The world's most expensive player, Neymar, and his new team, Paris Saint-Germain, were drawn in Group B along with five-time European Cup champions Bayern Munich, Belgian champion Anderlecht and Scottish title-winners Celtic.

Group B is one of four groups with multiple European Cup winners (Bayern and Celtic). The others are Groups A (Benfica and Man United), D (Juventus and Barcelona) and H (Real Madrid and Dortmund). B is the only group with two teams (PSG and Bayern) that have a double-digit chance to win the title, according to SPI.

Group C will be the most intense in terms of having three strong teams fighting for two knockout-round spots.

-- The toughest group in this edition, in terms of being the most evenly matched, has to be Group C, which features three teams with more than a 60 percent probability to reach the round of 16 (Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Roma). The also-ran in the group, according to SPI, is Qarabag FK. With less than a 1 percent chance to advance, the first-time participant might be booking a trip back to Azerbaijan sooner than they had hoped.

Overall, Zinedine Zidane's Real side are fancied by the bookmakers to win it again.

-- According to Bet365.com, Real Madrid is a 7-2 favorite to become the first team since Bayern Munich from 1973-76 to win three consecutive European Cup titles. Co-second favorites are Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG (7-1). No other club has odds shorter than 11-1.

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