Spain become the first country to be represented by five clubs in the Champions League Group Stage, with Valencia beating Monaco to join Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, while Leo Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen picked up individual gongs at the UEFA awards on Thursday.
Valencia lost 2-1 to Monaco on Tuesday evening, but an Alvaro Negredo goal in the 3rd minute gave his side a crucial away goal advantage to advance to the Group Stage.
Sevilla, despite finishing fifth in the La Liga table, automatically qualified for the 2015-16 Champions League by winning the Europa League last season – the first year the Europa League champion was guaranteed a spot in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid finished third and second respectively last season and were automatically guaranteed a place in the tournament while Barcelona were a shoo-in after not only winning La Liga but the Champions League as well.
Valencia have secured their return to the Champions League and were placed in the 2nd seed pot for the Group Stage draw, joining Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, while Barcelona were in pot one as league champions last season, highlighting how strong the Spanish sides have been in Europe over the last five years.
The defending champions, Barcelona, who beat Juventus in the final of this competition were drawn against Bayer Leverkusen from Germany, AS Roma, which sees Luis Enrique return to the club he used to manage, and BATE Borisov.
Real Madrid, who won La Decima two seasons ago are in a group with Paris Saint-Germain, seeing Angel de Maria return to the Bernabeu after his unhappy spell at Manchester United. They also drew Ukrainian outfit, Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmo FF from Sweden.
Their city counterparts, Atletico, should be happy with their lot after drawing Benfica, who are currently without their coach, Jorge Jesus, who moved to city rivals Sporting Lisbon this summer. Turkish side Galatastaray and FC Astana of Kazakhstan make up the rest of the group.
The kings of the Europa league, Sevilla, who are in the Champions League as a result of winning the sister competition last season, got put into the toughest group of the Spaniards. They are up against last season’s finalists, Juventus, which sees an immediate return to his old club for Fernando Llorente, while their group also contains Manchester City, who have started the season in impressive fashion, and the German side, Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Valencia, who defeated AS Monaco 4-3 on aggregate, appear to be in the easiest group having been drawn with Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg, Lyon and Gent.
Following the Group Stage Draw, UEFA president Michel Platini announced Messi as the UEFA Player of the Year, the Argentine international’s second of his already storied career.
A pool of UEFA credited journalists from 54 different countries voted the 27-year-old as the recipient of the award, making the forward the hands-down favourite to win his fifth Ballon d’Or next January.
Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez topped the 10-man list released in July and were the top three in the 12th August three-man shortlist, however, Messi’s treble winning season and breaking Telmo Zarra’s La Liga goal-scoring record trumped Cristiano’s Pichichi Award and Suarez’s own treble-winning accomplishments after a four-month ban.
Messi also picked up the UEFA Best Goal of the Year trophy for his delicate chip over Manuel Neuer after burning Jerome Boateng, and his teammate Marc-André ter Stegen won UEFA’s Best Save of the Year for his miraculous stop against Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski in last season’s Champions League semi-final.
Ter Stegen’s stop saved Barcelona and helped lead them to the Champions League final, where they later beat Juventus to complete their treble.
The German international earned 28% of the vote, beating out Manuel Neuer’s stop against Roma and Gianluigi Buffon’s stop against Dani Alves in the Champions League final, both of which earned 20% of the vote.
Thibaut Courtois’ stop against PSG’s Thiago Silva finished fourth with 11% of the vote, while Manchester City’s Joe Hart and his stop against Barcelona in the group stages earned 7% of the total votes by UEFA.com users.
This content originally appeared on Inside Spanish Football.