Paul Scholes believes that Real Madrid have left themselves vulnerable in the defence of their Champions League title by selling Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria, opening the door to an English winner.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are aiming to be the first team for 25 years to retain the European Cup – Milan won it in 1989 and 1990 – but The Independent columnist does not think their transfer activity this summer has made them any stronger.
Real signed the Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez for £63m from Monaco as well as World Cup winner Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich for just £24m. Those two talented arrivals facilitated the departure of Alonso and Di Maria, who were both crucial in balancing the team last season.
“I think one of the English teams has the potential to win it this year but they have to get past Real Madrid,” said Scholes, who is an ITV pundit for this season’s tournament, starting with Liverpool’s home game against Ludogorets tonight.
“If you would have asked me before Real sold Di Maria and Alonso, two major influences in the team, I would have said no. Now I think they could be beatable. I believe an English team could win it this year.”
Of the English contingent, Scholes believes Liverpool could be an unknown quantity in their first season back in the competition since 2009-10.
“Liverpool are the dark horse of the competition this year, Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job,” Scholes said. “The style of play he’s adopted is exciting to watch and the players seem to have taken to him. I feel they will do well with players they have. The big advantage they have is a home crowd. Anfield is always a hostile place to go, which is something Manchester City lack.”
Scholes thinks that Liverpool can still be competitive, even with Luis Suarez having gone. “He’s a great player, but don’t forget they’ve signed [Mario] Balotelli who, on his day, can be a match-winner too,” he said.
After three consecutive Champions League disappointments – two group-stage exits and one in the last 16 – Scholes expects a stronger challenge from Manchester City and believes that they have the players to do that.
“The Champions League will be their main focus for the season,” Scholes predicted. “Their owners will want to see them push on in the Champions League. They have a tough group this year, but with the players they have they need to go on to win it, and there’s really little excuse not to do well.”
While Arsenal have a more consistent record than City, but have been eliminated at the last-16 stage for the last four seasons, Scholes doubts their ability to beat strong opponents. “The only problem with Arsenal is when they meet top teams, they don’t seem to have the consistent level of mental strength to get through it.”
Chelsea have started the season very strongly but Scholes thinks their “main objective is winning the Premier League this season”.
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