Spurs get most testing draw of all Premier League rivals

MONACO • If Tottenham Hotspur were hoping for karmic payback in the city of casinos after their elimination from the Champions League by Monaco last season, they did not get it on Thursday.

While Liverpool dropped on to the relative featherbed of Group E, alongside Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor, Mauricio Pochettino's side were pitched into the lions' den - Group H, where Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund await.

"That's what the Champions League is all about, pitting yourselves against the best teams in Europe," Spurs midfielder Eric Dier said. "Real Madrid are the reigning champions as well, so that makes it even more special. We'll give everything against every opponent to try to beat them."

It is the matches against Real that hold most intrigue, especially as they bring Spurs face to face with two of their former heroes.

Real have largely had an excellent return on their £85 million (S$148.25 million) signing of Gareth Bale in 2013 - the Welshman has garnered four Ballon d'Or nominations - although his place has come under threat from Isco and Marco Asensio in recent times.

More guaranteed to start against his former club is Luka Modric, who was in Monaco to pick up an award for the outstanding midfielder of the previous European season.

If Modric and Bale will loom large over the Tottenham-Real fixtures, there was no doubting the identity of the spectre who will attend Chelsea's Group C clashes with Real's city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Diego Costa must have had a wry smile as his former club and prospective suitors were paired with his current employers.

There is no chance of Costa playing in those fixtures in an Atletico shirt - the Spanish club are under a transfer embargo until January - and seemingly just as scant prospect of him gracing them in Chelsea colours, but that did not stop the match being instantly heralded as the "Diego Costa derby".

Less formidable were the draws handed to Liverpool and both Manchester clubs. Manchester United have steamrollered their two Premier League opponents West Ham and Swansea so far; Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moscow may prove flimsy obstacles.

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City should have too much for Feyenoord and Shakhtar Donetsk, while the matches against Napoli will have purists salivating.

Liverpool were rewarded handsomely for their demolition of Hoffenheim with the most hospitable group of all.

"There are groups with Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid, and not to get them is of course more good than bad," manager Jurgen Klopp said.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Spurs get most testing draw of all Premier League rivals'. Print Edition | Subscribe