The 32 teams have learned of their fate in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw, with the road to the final in Istanbul officially beginning.

The reigning champions Liverpool will return to the Stadio San Paolo on Matchday One, looking to avenge their loss to Napoli there in last season’s campaign. Relatively unknown quantities Red Bull Salzburg and Genk join them in Group E.

The resident ‘group of death’ has fallen in Group F, containing Spanish champions Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Antonio Conte’s new look Inter Milan side, with Slavia Prague joining as relative minnows.

Chelsea’s return to the Champions League after winning the Europa League last season will see them face last season’s Cinderella story in Ajax, as well as interesting ties against Lille and Valencia.

Champions League first timers Atalanta join the competition after a third placed finish in Serie A, and they are well within a shot at reaching the knockout stages. They will face favourites Manchester City along with Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Group G has thrown up an interesting selection of teams as that one group every year that eventuates without a true powerhouse in it. Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg came out of Pot 1, and were followed by Benfica, Lyon and RB Leipzig.

The remaining groups should be a formality, with two top teams facing two lesser sides, but anything is possible in the Champions League as shown last season.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain will begin their redemption campaigns against each other with Galatasaray and Club Brugge for company in Group A, while runner-up Tottenham Hotspur face Bayern Munich in Group B, with Crvena Zvezda and Olympiakos looking to provide competition.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s journey to take Juventus to the Champions League will begin against an all too familiar rival in Atletico Madrid – his second leg hat-trick dumped Atleti out of the competition in the quarter-finals last season. Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow join the two sides who have each lost two finals this decade.

The Champions League campaign kicks off in the early morning of Wednesday September 18 (AEST), with the group stage coming to its conclusion in December.

Nick Hughes