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May 23, 2012

City to face another group of death?

You couldn't blame Manchester City fans for thinking Lady Luck had deserted them last August when they were drawn with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal in the group stage of their first Champions League campaign.

• European honours list 2011-12

City were in pot three last season, which meant they were always likely to be handed a tough draw. They will move up into pot two for the 2012-13 Champions League, ranked 14th of qualified clubs based on UEFA's coefficient table.

With Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Lyon, Marseille, CSKA Moscow and Villarreal failing to earn a return to Europe's top table this season, coupled with Man City's upward movement from 42nd to 28th in UEFA's overall table, the Premier League champions will now be in the same draw pot as Valencia, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg and Schalke 04. That's the good news, now for the draw which City could once more fear.

Juventus will definitely be in pot three, and unless there is a series of dramatic shocks Borussia Dortmund will, once again, find themselves in the bottom pot of seeds.

It means that the champions of Europe's top four leagues could be drawn in the same group: Real Madrid, Man City, Juve and Dortmund. That would be a more daunting group than Roberto Mancini had to face last season, up against three sides who have each won the European Cup in the last 16 years.

The top two pots of seeds are guaranteed to be as follows:

Pot 1 (seeds): Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Arsenal, FC Porto, AC Milan
Pot 2: Valencia, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg, Schalke 04, Manchester City

The final two slots in the second pot have yet to be decided, though will be filled by Braga and Dynamo Kiev if they both qualify, with Olympiakos moving up if either fails and Ajax also promoted if two of those three do not make it.

The pots are calculated, based on UEFA's co-efficient system. This scores European performance over a five-year period with points awarded for results and progress in the Champions League and Europa League, plus 20% of the national league coefficient over the same period (33% before 2009).

Even though Dortmund have secured back to back Bundesliga titles ahead of Bayern Munich, and did the double this season, they have done little in Europe in recent years. They were in the UEFA Cup in 2008-09 but failed to make it to the group stage, losing on penalties to Udinese in the first round. Dortmund then won only two of their six matches in the 2010-11 Europa League group stage, and on their return to the Champions League last season had only a victory over Olympiakos and a draw with Arsenal to show for their efforts.

With just three European group stage victories over the past five seasons, Dortmund find themselves languishing way down in 66th in UEFA's coefficient table. Bolton Wanderers, relegated from the Premier League this season, are four places behind in 70th due to reaching the last-16 of the UEFA Cup in 2007-08.

Dortmund were ranked 25th of the Champions League entrants last season, and could find they have dropped to 29th depending on who qualifies. There are six slots in pots two and three which can be affected by the qualifiers, but it is unlikely that enough of the sides ranked higher will fail to qualify for Dortmund to be promoted up to pot three. Also Galatasaray, ranked 60th, stand to benefit first.

There are 11 sides in the qualifiers ranked above Dortmund: Braga, Dynamo Kiev, FC Basel, Panathinaikos, Anderlecht, Spartak Moscow, Fenerbahce, Udinese, Lille, Brugge and Celtic.

Jurgen Klopp's side will be helped if FC Nordsjaelland seal the Danish title on Wednesday evening - they must win at home to AC Horsens to clinch their first Superligaen title. Nordsjaelland (172nd) and Montpellier (140th) would be the only sides to have qualified with a lower coefficient than Dortmund, and both would be debutants.

Copenhagen pipping Nordsjaelland to the championship on the final day would damage the Bundesliga club, as Copenhagen are ranked 44th and would be guaranteed a place in pot three.

If Dortmund are to stand any chance of avoiding the bottom pot, and a potential group of death, they need the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach and Malaga to qualify for the Champions League at the expense of the seeded teams they are likely to meet in the final play-off round.

Juventus will definitely be in pot three regardless of who else qualifies, as will big spending PSG if Copenhagen lose out in Denmark. It is still likely PSG will be in the third pot unless all of the seeded teams qualify. None of the teams in the top two pots will want Juve or PSG in their group.

Europa League

It is more difficult to predict the Europa League pots as only seven teams automatically qualify for the group stage. Atletico Madrid, Lyon, Tottenham Hotspur and Bayer Leverkusen will all be seeded, while Athletic Bilbao could be if they win the King's Cup and three sides with a higher co-efficient fail to qualify. Napoli and Académica Coimbra are almost certain to have to settle for places in pots two and four respectively.

Inter Milan, Marseille, Sporting Lisbon, CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven, Bordeaux and FC Twente, along with Liverpool, are first in line to be seeded if they qualify with VfB Stuttgart, Metalist Kharkiv, Athletic, AZ Alkmaar and Besiktas next to make the step up.

The other English club, Newcastle United, are currently set to be in the bottom group of seeds but are only two places from pot three. Malaga and Gladbach also face the prospect of being in the bottom pot if they lose in the Champions League qualifiers.

Technically you could have a group of death of Lyon, Athletic, Lazio and Newcastle United - or mix and match with four teams from the top leagues - but there are too many variables to make firm predictions over which sides will appear in the non-seeded pots.

• Follow Dale Johnson on Twitter

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