Features

Q&A: BT Sport pundits Owen Hargreaves and Steve McManaman

13th September 2015

Sports4Bars.com headed to the BT Sport studios in East London to get the lowdown on the upcoming UEFA Champions League from two men who know what it's like to win the fabled trophy, Owen Hargreaves and Steve McManaman – the only two English players ever to have won a Champions League medal with non-English clubs

Sports4Bars.com: The UEFA Champions League is rightly seen as the pinnacle of club football and there are some great matchdays in prospect coming up on BT Sport in the coming weeks and months aren't there?

Steve McManaman: Absolutely - bars are going to be packed right from the first matchday and there's a great game from the off with Manchester City taking on Juventus on Tuesday night. That's a huge tie - last year's runners-up and reigning Serie A champions against one of the frontrunners for the Barclays Premier League title. It's a real big game to fire us off and I think everybody is really looking forward to it. They should be because City are really exciting at this moment in time. In Sergio Aguero and David Silva they have two established superstars who everyone knows about and Yaya Toure has also started so well this season.

Owen Hargreaves: Man City have a great team but those three are head and shoulders over everyone else – they're in another dimension. It'll be interesting to see what happens with newcomer Kevin de Bruyne - someone who's played in England before with Chelsea and didn't really make an impact - and how he's going to fit into a team that's already functioning incredibly well.

SM: I think the exciting thing for Manchester City fans is that their team now has different options as to how they can play. Last year they got found out a bit in Europe, certainly against Barcelona, but this year they can bring in the likes of De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling and have so much pace.

OH: Even with the new additions, City are essentially the same team, it's just that they've changed their tactics which was something that everyone was crying out for last season.

SM: In many ways they've had bad luck over the past five years in Europe with some tough draws along the way but now they're one of the biggest teams in the competition and have to perform. You have to be beating the likes of Barca and Bayern Munich because this year City have spent so much money...

OH: ...in the region of £200 million...

SM: … that they have to turn up this year. I think their draw is difficult but I fully expect them to win the group, looking at their opposition. Juventus are a different side this year and have started their Serie A campaign poorly so that's why I'm favouring Man City to top the group.

Sports4Bars: So what about Manchester United's chances in the UEFA Champions League? They certainly haven't had the greatest of starts to their domestic campaign have they?

OH: United's group is terrific - PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg - you couldn't ask for a better group than that. They will qualify and maybe Louis van Gaal's team will be better in the knockout games. For the moment, a lot of people are trying to work out what his tactics are and whether he knows what his best team is. One fortunate thing for United is that De Gea is still there because he'll win them big games. If he hadn't stayed, the keeper situation would have complicated to say the least for United with the team relying on Romero who had come on a free transfer as he was without a club. It's a far cry from the days of {former chief executive} David Gill when the forward planning was meticulous and things like that would have been done months in advance. It shows that, just like they're transitioning on the pitch under Van Gaal, they're also transitioning in the off-field department and as much as they miss Sir Alex, they also miss David Gill. It's got to be concerning for their fans that United spent £50million on an unknown kid like Anthony Martial. Even though he's a super player, that's Neymar-level money.

SM: You can't expect him to be a world beater in his first six months at the club so there's going to be a lot of pressure on Martial. Of course, there's also pressure on Rooney now as the main centre forward.

OH: I think his form with England in the recent Euro Qualifiers has shown that if you give Wayne service, he'll score goals. The trouble is he's been left slightly isolated in the Manchester United system.

Sports4Bars: And it's fair to say that Chelsea have looked fairly unconvincing this season on the domestic stage?

SM: Chelsea are a bit of an enigma this season. They finished off really strongly last term in the Premier League but two months later they've struggled and there's been a lot of negativity around them. I think they'll be fine in the Champions League but they certainly need to perform to get everyone back onside. All you can do is win your next game. I'm hoping that all four English clubs do well this time around as it was a bit of shame last year with none of them mounting a strong challenge. With the amount of money they've spent in the summer, you'd expect them to do a lot better this time around. Everyone's looking towards the British teams with a lot of anticipation. I've been in Spain recently and over there they marvel at the amount of money the British teams have spent and they're really expecting a lot from our teams in Europe this season.

OH: The thing with Chelsea is that last season they never ever beat themselves – never made mistakes, they never chased games, they didn't have any red cards – but this season you look at the penalties, the red cards, their in-house issues – they actually are beating themselves. Obviously something's not right there and they need to sort that out because they're still the best team in the country in my opinion.

Sports4Bars: So, in terms of the key contenders for the UEFA Champions League in Europe, is it still the big-name teams that will be the ones to beat?

SM: I think so – Bayern Munich's signings over the summer have been excellent. People may have overlooked the injury problems that Bayern experienced last year with key players Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery missing from the latter stages of the tournament which really affected them. If they can keep all their players fit, they're really going to be a force this season.

OH: Absolutely, Bayern will win their group and in new signing Douglas Costa have an outrageous talent who is a great addition to the squad.

Sports4Bars: And I understand that BT Sport is really looking to innovate in terms of how they're going to cover the action – it must be exciting to be part of this new era?

SM: There's some fantastic action coming our way in Europe and I think fans are going to be delighted with what BT Sport is doing with the coverage. The level of innovation that being introduced and the insight from the team of pundits they've assembled is really going to take the coverage to a new level.

OH: Macca and I have been here from the start of BT Sport and it's incredible how it's developed in just two years. Everyone involved has a real passion alongside their knowledge of the game so it's a great team to be part of.

Sports4Bars: And where better to watch the action on BT Sport than in the bar?

OH: Exactly. When I played for Bayern Munich I used to head down to an Irish bar called Molly Malones to watch live games and have a pint and it was great to experience that sort of group atmosphere.

SM: In fact, Owen and I were in a bar just the other day watching an England Qualifier and when Wayne Rooney scored a goal people were literally jumping around the bar. It's a lot more exciting watching a big game alongside other people in a pub or bar than sitting at home with a cup of tea!

Watch Manchester City v Juventus on Tuesday 15 September live and exclusive from 7.30pm on BT Sport Europe & BT Sport Ultra HD. BT Sport is the new home of European football, with all UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches exclusively live. Visit bt sport.com/europe

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