Hagi backs Madrid to retain Champions League crown

Gheorghe Hagi believes holders Real Madrid are favourites to win the Champions League again this season.

Madrid were drawn on Monday against Napoli in the round of 16, the reigning champions having finished second behind Borussia Dortmund in Group F.

No team has retained the European Cup since the format of the competition was altered by UEFA from 1992 onwards, with AC Milan in 1990 the last club to successfully defend the continent's biggest prize.

Madrid lifted the trophy for a record 11th time at San Siro in May, beating cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Speaking to Omnisport, former Romania international Hagi, who played at the Santiago Bernabeu from 1990 to 1992, declared his old team the frontrunners again in 2016-17.

"I think Real Madrid is the favourite at this moment," he said.

"They're fit. [Head coach Zinedine] Zidane is doing well. He gave the team a lot of [confidence] and [calmness]. 

"You can see how the players are happy, so they can deliver. Barca started very, very good," he added, referring to another of his old clubs, 2014-15 Champions League winners Barcelona.

"But I have the feeling physically and mentally they are, at the moment, one step down. When someone is not at his best it is very difficult to give his best."

Of the other contenders to advance in the knockout stages, he said: "I think [former Bara coach] Pep [Guardiola] will do a very good job at [Manchester] City too. He is [moving] the right way despite [the fact] he wants to rejuvenate his team but he will do a good job. Let's see. 

"Bayern [Munich] seems confused at the moment but you never know," he added, the Bundesliga holders having struggled to convince under Carlo Ancelotti.

"But it is very difficult to forecast one winner. You never know how teams are going to reach the final stages in March. There are four months left, many games to be played. 

"Another candidate is Atletico Madrid, which is always pushing with [coach] Diego Simeone. It is incredible, the team's attitude. It is difficult to say. Let's see … but it is important that Barca and Real have an important option to win again."

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