The Champions League is back with a fresh slate of contenders desperate to wrap their hands around the iconic trophy and hoist it high.
BT Sport boasts the UK TV rights to show the Champions League once again, and Steve McManaman – who features as an expert and co-commentator throughout BT’s coverage – has had his say on the key teams to watch in the hunt for silverware.
The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Man City winger had plenty of experience playing with some of the best players in the world during his illustrious career and has run the rule over the current generation of superstars.
- Check out how to watch Champions League fixtures on TV and highlights
In an exclusive chat with RadioTimes.com, McManaman walked us through the four English teams hoping to win the Champions League as well as one bona fide European contender and a wildcard option to keep an eye on.
Check out what McManaman had to say on some of the biggest teams in the 2021/22 Champions League, with his thoughts on Cristiano Ronaldo’s influential return to Manchester United, whether Manchester City will be as strong as recent seasons and whether reigning champions Chelsea can defend their title.
Check out more features: Premier League stadiums | Premier League kits | Who will win the Premier League? | Premier League table predicted 2021/22 | Best players in the Premier League 2021 | Best football players in the world 2021
Steve McManaman: Yeah, they could absolutely [defend their title]. I think they’re a really hard team to beat, Chelsea. They’re not as entertaining as City or Liverpool or probably Manchester United, but that doesn’t make them less competitive. The way they set up with five defenders and two defensive-minded players in front of them – Jorginho and Kante – means they are very difficult to break down, means they are very difficult to beat. Of course you can see them going a long way in this tournament.
My only concern is whether they can break teams down a lot in the Premier League, but in a cup competition, of course you can see them going far. In a one-off game, they can nick a goal and defend, and they can do that home and away. They’re a hard team to break down with a really strong squad, they’ve improved on last year by bringing Lukaku in, so without a shadow of a doubt they’re one of the favourites for the Champions League.
SM: I can understand why Liverpool struggled last year with the injuries they had, being close to the squad and noticing how many injuries they had in key positions and having to change personnel, they lost some of the power in midfield, but I was still disappointed when they lost to Real Madrid last year. I thought they should have beaten Real Madrid. The bar Liverpool set two or three seasons ago, I think that is still a really high level and if they can get back to that level with the players they’ve got, I would rank them very highly.
SM: I would certainly say they’ve strengthened. Aguero was a super player but he hardly played last year because of his injury problems and they were well documented, Jack Grealish coming in is brilliant, Ferran Torres is a year older and playing really well in a Man City side that has started the Premier League off really well, and Phil Foden again. I think City are better this year than they were last year. Yes, they’ve lost one player who was getting older and has had his injury problems, and they brought a really good young English player in who can make things happen, who can assist goals, who can take people on. I love Jack as a player and I think City are definitely a better team than last year.
I just think they need a bit of luck [in the Champions League]. I don’t really know, but they just need a little bit of luck to get over the line because they’re a great team. You need the penalties decisions to go your way, you need to keep people on the pitch, you need players to be fully fit at the right time. You need a little bit of fortune to get to where you need to be.
SM: Cristiano Ronaldo coming back is great for the Premier League, it’s brilliant for Manchester United, it’s great that Rafael Varane’s in there too. They’ve got huge experience in the Champions League, they’re used to winning the Champions League, used to going deep in the Champions League, so it’ll really help United in getting to the level that they want to be. I don’t know whether they’ve got enough to compete in the Premier League [title race] but the Champions League, certainly, in one-off games, home and away, they can go far in a cup competition.
I’ve always liked what Ole’s done. Everybody he has brought in, he’s improved every year. Some of the signings have done very well and you just need patience. The trajectory is right and the players he’s brought in are the right type of players with the right characters.
SM: Bayern Munich are always quite quiet in the business that they do. It doesn’t normally warrant a lot of headlines when Bayern get into business, but they’ve strengthened their squad. Only a couple of players have come in, but some of the younger players have grown older and more experienced, which is great, and Hansi Flick has left, of course, Julian Nagelsmann is in. They’ll probably be the only one [who can challenge the English teams].
With PSG, we’re all waiting to see what happens. It’s great. It’s brilliant. They’ve brought Sergio Ramos in, Donnarumma in, Hakimi in, Wijnaldum in, Leo Messi in. They’ve done some incredible business, but we’ll be watching how Pochettino tries to control them all, watching who he puts in his team, watching if he’s able to drop someone like Angel Di Maria because he needs to put Messi in somewhere, to see what happens with Mbappe because he’s going out of contract.
Who will win the Champions League?
SM: I think the English teams will get to the final. I think it’ll be the English teams knocking each other out this year. Like it was last year, like it was two seasons ago. I think the English teams are too strong, too savvy, with too much experience now and the managers are good – they know how to get to a final. And I think it could be any of them.
If I was having a bet now, I’d be putting it all on one of the English teams. I wouldn’t be looking at PSG until I’ve seen them in action when the chips are down and you need them to work hard and fight and get tough. I’m looking forward to seeing them, I hope they’re brilliant, I hope they’re excellent, I hope they play incredible football but it’s gonna be an interesting watch.
I’d like Liverpool to get to the final, I’d like City to get to the final, but I think one of the English teams just needs a bit of fortune and things to go the right way and an English team will win it again.
BT Sport is the exclusive home of UEFA Champions League football. Watch every game of the 2021/22 competition live on TV, online and on the BT Sport app. For more info, visit btsport.com