Manchester City well-positioned to advance out of challenging Group C
Manchester City have been drawn against Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in the Champions League. Here's a look at their European campaign.
Group C is not quite the hardest group of the draw, but Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola could certainly have been handed an easier start to life in the Champions League with his new club.
A return to Barcelona, where he won two Champions League trophies in his four years as a manager, will probably be the most anticipated fixture of any game in the group stages.
Guardiola enjoyed two incredible trophy-laden spells at the Nou Camp both as a player and then as a coach, and will get another hero's welcome from the Barca fans because of his unforgettable impact on the club.
But it won't be the Catalan's first return to his old home -- he suffered a humbling 3-0 defeat with Bayern Munich in the semifinals in May 2015 as he failed to win the trophy during his three years in Germany.
Meanwhile, Celtic and Borussia Monchengladbach will pose real threats to City's chances of getting out of the group. The two clashes with Scottish champions Celtic will be full-blooded and passionate encounters, while Gladbach improved a great deal last season under new boss Andre Schubert.
Guardiola has never failed to get out of the group stage during his seven campaigns in the Champions League, but this year could provide him with his biggest challenge yet.
The quality of Barcelona is not only known to Guardiola but the entire footballing world. The La Liga champions will have realistic ambitions of winning the Champions League again -- just as they do every year.
They have won the tournament three times in the last seven years -- their last triumph coming in 2015 -- and have not gone out before the quarterfinal stage for a decade.
Guardiola's new-look City could hardly have been handed a tougher test and the tactical overhaul of his defence will be severely examined by Europe's best attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
The 45-year-old wants his side to maintain possession of the ball and that will also be difficult against Barca -- who are the masters at dominating on that front.
The two sides met in the round of 16 in 2014 and 2015 with the La Liga side winning comfortably home and away both times.
One hope for City is that Barca's key players remain the same from those defeats but they are now a little bit older with Messi, Suarez, Gerard Pique all 29, while Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano have turned 32.
It's been six years since an English side was paired with a Scottish club in the Champions League -- when Rangers held Manchester United to a goalless draw at Old Trafford, although they were beaten at Ibrox. Since then the disparity between the two leagues has grown bigger and City will be big favourites to win home and away.
Celtic failed to qualify for the group stage in the previous two years and will be relishing the prospect of a "Battle of Britain" and a visit to a raucous Celtic Park in particular promises to be an intimidating game for Guardiola's side.
On top of that, new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has a history with City from his Liverpool days. He pushed Manuel Pellegrini's side all the way in the 2014 Premier League title race after beating City 3-2 midway through April to move seven points clear at the top before ultimately throwing away their advantage.
Celtic have hardly been impressive in reaching the group stage -- losing 1-0 to Gibraltarian part-timers Lincoln Red Imps before winning the return leg 3-0 in Scotland. And they narrowly beat Hapoel Beer Sheva 5-4 on aggregate after surviving a late onslaught as the Israeli side looked for a goal that would have knocked them out.
While the focus will be all on the games against Barca and Celtic, the two ties against Monchengladbach could be the ones they need to navigate to advance and it could be key that they avoid defeat at Borussia Park.
The two sides clashed last season with City winning home and away -- results that went a long to way to securing top place in the group.
The Bundesliga side went into the home game in September having lost six of their opening nine games in all competitions. They took the lead through Lars Stindl but were pegged back by Martin Demichelis header and a last-minute penalty from Sergio Aguero.
City won the return game at the Etihad in December 4-2 but trailed with 11 minutes remaining before Raheem Sterling struck twice and Wilfried Bony added a fourth.
Skipper Granit Xhaka has left for Arsenal but World Cup winner Christoph Kramer has returned and in Mahmoud Dahoud, Andreas Christensen and Nico Elvedi, they have three of the most exciting young players in the Bundesliga. They easily beat Swiss side Young Boys 3-1 away and 6-1 in their playoff to reach the group stages in August.
Runners-up. It may be too early for Guardiola's new City side to match up to the might of Barcelona, but they should have enough to reach the knockout stages.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.