Tough draw for Barça, Bayern
© Getty Images

Titleholders Barcelona were pitted against seven-time winners AC Milan in the draw for the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League group stages held on Thursday. Aside from Milan, knocked out in the last 16 last term, Pep Guardiola's Spanish giants will also face FC Bate Borisov of Belarus and Viktoria Plzen in Group H.

Manchester United, making a record 17th appearance in the world's top club competition, were the first of the 32 teams to be drawn out of UEFA's 'hat' by Portuguese legend Luis Figo. Sir Alex Ferguson's three-time winners face Benfica, the Portuguese double winners from the early 1960s, FC Basel and Romanian outfit FC Otelul Galati in Group C.

"We have had great matches against them (Benfica) and he (Sir Bobby Charlton) was reminiscing before the draw about that great match back in 1968," said United chief executive David Gill.

"We had some great games against them in 2000 so we are looking forward to going back to Portugal. We've had great success in the last few years in the competition and we're looking forward to it."

We've had great success in the last few years in the competition and we're looking forward to it.
David Gill, United chief executive

Figo's former club, nine-time kings of Europe Real Madrid, come up against old foes Lyon of France, Dutch heavyweights Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb.

Friday's 32-team draw featured 11 previous winners and five newcomers, with among the debutants Ferguson's 'noisy neighbours', Manchester City. Roberto Mancini's expensively assembled side were handed a tricky assignment with four-time winners Bayern Munich, who had to come through the play-offs, keeping them company in Group A. Also on City's radar are Italian group stage first timers Napoli and Villarreal.

"This is the toughest group of the whole draw," said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes on the club's website. "I know Villarreal and Napoli very well and they are both absolutely top clubs.

"And you don't need to say too much about Manchester City - they have strengthened incredibly and really want European success with all of their might. Yes, we are in the most difficult group in the Champions League. We are going to be up against it in every game and will have to keep the concentration high for each match."

Arsenal's tricky start to the season with star players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving the Emirates Stadium for pastures new was eased by their defeat of Udinese in the play-offs. And the Gunners' reward for securing their 14th Champions League campaign was a match-up against Didier Deschamps' Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Olympiacos. Chelsea, the fourth representative from the English Premier League and last season's quarter-finalists, are in Group E with Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Genk.

Last season's quarter-finalists and three-time champions Inter Milan come up against Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, Lille and Trabzonspor in Group B. Group G comprises another former winner of the competition in FC Porto, who face Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg and APOEL Nicosia.

The long road to the 19 May final at Bayern's Munich stadium starts on 13 September with the opening salvos of this season's group stages The top two placed teams in each group advance to the first knockout round, with the third-placed teams dropping down to the UEFA Europa League

2011/12 UEFA Champions League group stage

Group A
Bayern Munich (GER)
Villarreal (ESP)
Manchester City (ENG)
Napoli (ITA)

Group B
Inter Milan (ITA)
CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Lille (FRA)
Trabzonspor (TUR)

Group C

Manchester United (ENG)
Benfica (POR)
Basel (SUI)
Oţelul Galaţi (ROU)

Group D
Real Madrid (ESP)
Lyon (FRA)
Ajax Amsterdam (NED)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)

Group E
Chelsea (ENG)
Valencia (ESP)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen (GER)
Genk (BEL)

Group F
Arsenal (ENG)
Marseille (FRA)
Olympiacos (GRE)
Borussia Dortmund (GER)

Group G

Porto (POR)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Zenit St Petersburg (RUS)
APOEL (CYP)

Group H

Barcelona (ESP)
AC Milan (ITA)
BATE Borisov (BLR)
Viktoria Plzeň (CZE)