We recently caught up with BT Sport presenter Gary Lineker to run the rule over this year’s Champions League contenders.
With Premier League sides enjoying something of a renaissance in the competition this year, it felt only right to begin there and ask Gary, who has presented BT Sport’s Champions League coverage since 2015, firstly if he believed all five were going to qualify for the knockout stages (with three already safely through) and what was the English resurgence down to?
“Yes [all five will qualify] for sure, probably all as group winners.
“I’d put it down to English teams getting stronger, financial investment from new TV deal and having best coaches in the world, added to big clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich being not quite as strong, closing the gap.”
Attention then shifted to the individual English clubs themselves. The Premier League sides have had mixed campaigns to a degree, and yet all are in strong positions to emerge as group winners going into the last 16. Lineker’s former club Tottenham were arguably handed the hardest group and yet they essentially breezed past it, topping the pile with a game to spare and taking four points from the defending champions in the process:
” I think Spurs winning the group with a game to spare in such a tough group [with Real and Borussia Dortmund] surprised everyone.
“The more experience they have of Champions League football [with regards their improvement from a disappointing campaign last season] the more it will improve them.”
Liverpool and Chelsea, meanwhile, have been up and down in this campaign so far, but Lineker feels that they would be a handful for whomever they are paired with in the knockout stages:
“Liverpool have been unpredictable. They’ve been brilliant at times, self-destructive at other times but if they win the group they could scare anyone in the knockout stage.
“Chelsea have been up and down with the heavier schedule (including a 4,000km trip to Baku last week), but qualifying from a tough group [with Atletico Madrid and Roma] is impressive and again no one will want to draw them in the last 16.”
To the Manchester clubs next. United and City boast managers with an abundance of Champions League experience (four titles between them, to be exact) and while City are probably English football’s best bet of finding a winner, don’t rule out Mourinho bringing the trophy back to Old Trafford.
“Yes [Manchester City] have to be our best bet [of an English team winning the Champions League this season]. City have been explosive on all fronts so far this season and if they keep their stars fit could go all the way.
“Manchester United will win the group and Jose is a winner. Don’t rule them out even if a few sides do look stronger on paper. It’s on grass where it counts and Mourinho’s teams are tough to beat.”
Finally we put it to Gary, having seen a decent amount of all of the main contenders in this season’s competion, who he feels right now is best equipped to win the final in Kiev in May 2018?
“At present you’d have to say PSG are rightfully favourites, but that of course can change come February. They’ve been sensational in the Champions League and great to watch. “
BT Sport is where the best in sport go head to head. Watch every game from the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League exclusively live on BT Sport, online and via the BT Sport App. For more info visit www.BT.com/sport
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football Podcast, we chat to David Cawley about his recent return to Sligo Rovers from Galway United, we look at the proposed promotion/relegation structure in the First Division as well as recap all of the latest domestic news.
Read More About: antonio conte, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Champions League, Chelsea, gary lineker, jose mourinho, jurgen klopp, Juventus, Liverpool, Man City, Man United, pep guardiola, psg, Top Story, tottenham