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Gaizka Mendieta: Barcelona are favourites for the Champions League this season

Gaizka Mendieta Barcelona

Not since Bayern Munich in 2013 have a club from outside La Liga been crowned champions of Europe; Real Madrid have lifted the trophy on four occasions, while Barcelona triumphed in 2015.

Only once before in history has one league dominated for longer – English clubs lifted the European Cup for six years in succession between 1977 and 1982, thanks to Liverpool’s three victories, Nottingham Forest’s double glory and Aston Villa’s shock win over Bayern Munich.

That record could be equalled if Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid win the Champions League this season, and Mendieta thinks his former club Barça could be well placed to do just that.

“They’re probably the best team in Europe at the moment,” says the two-time UEFA midfielder of the year, who helped Valencia to the Champions League final in both 2000 and 2001, before a season at the Camp Nou in 2002/03.

“If you look at the consistency Barcelona have in terms of their squad, subs coming on and making an impact, I think they might be the best team right now.

“I wouldn’t say there’s one team that stands out from the rest. Liverpool, Manchester City, Bayern, they’re all kind of a similar level. At the moment, Barça look like the ones who have more of a chance.”

Spanish staying power

La Liga clubs have won the Champions League in 11 of the last 21 seasons, and Mendieta thinks the league’s dominance is partially down to one key ingredient: Spanish sides are still better tactically than their Premier League counterparts.

“The culture is different – that’s something I’ve always noticed since I came to England,” says the 44-year-old, who spent five years with Middlesbrough and still lives in the country.

“The way I got taught as a little kid to play in different position and different positions – I knew all that as a little kid. Here’s it’s been hard to find the same education, tactically and technically.

“Certainly in my days as a player, Spain was a lot better than it is here. That’s one of the reasons why La Liga teams do so well – the way you coach and teach your young kids, it makes a big difference when they become professionals.

“I think English teams have difficulty in European tournaments with the tactical and defensive side of things. The Premier League is great, but when you play in Europe and you make mistakes, you pay a big price for it.”

Barcelona lead La Liga by seven points going into Saturday’s Clasico against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, while Los Blancos sit two points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid.

“A victory for Barça in El Clasico would stretch the lead over Real Madrid to 12, which is quite a lot,” admits Mendieta, an official ambassador for La Liga.

“But I wouldn’t say the title race is done yet, because a lot of games are still to be played. All three clubs are playing matches in both the Champions League and La Liga, and we know how demanding that is. You can never write off Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid, so the league isn’t done yet.”