Fate largely smiled on Manchester United and holders Chelsea in Thursday's Champions League draw, but Manchester City found themselves drawn into a daunting group with Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
Chelsea, who beat Bayern Munich on penalties in last season's final to claim the trophy for the first time, were drawn in Group E alongside Italian champions Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Danish debutants Nordsjaelland.
Juventus will be appearing in the Champions League for the first time since the 2009-10 season and are likely to present the strongest challenge to Roberto di Matteo's side. United found themselves in similarly benign surroundings in Group H, having been pitted against Portugal's SC Braga, Galatasaray of Turkey and Romanians CFR-Cluj in the draw in Monaco.
However, manager Sir Alex Ferguson will not need reminding that it was from a similarly straightforward group -- containing Benfica, FC Basel and Cluj's domestic rivals Otelul Gelati -- that the three-time champions failed to progress last season.
United, beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in the 2011 final, are appearing in the group phase for a record 18th time. As in 2011, this season's final will also take place at the Wembley, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Football Association. Along with Spain, England are one of only two countries with four teams in the group phase. The opening batch of group ties are scheduled for September 18/19.