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Steve McManaman: 'I don't think Real Madrid have strengthened enough'

Steve McManaman once scored in a Champions League semi final between Real Madrid and Barcelona, but he is surprised by one thing: Europe's two biggest clubs have still never met in the final.

If the competition is sometimes accused of throwing up the same fixtures year after year, arguably the biggest final of all is yet to happen – 60 years after the European Cup was first launched.

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They met in the semi-finals as far back as 1960, with Barcelona gaining revenge for that defeat by beating their rivals in the first round a season later. Barça won a semi-final in 2011, nine years after McManaman had netted at the Nou Camp as Real secured their passage into the final.

Just when a Real-Barça final looked set to happen last season, Juventus shocked the Madrid side in the last four. Still we wait for the ultimate El Clasico.

"I'm surprised it still hasn't happened," McManaman tells FFT. "It could have happened a lot over the last five or six years. No doubt it will soon enough, as long as they keep avoiding each other earlier in the draw.

"It should have happened last season. Real should have got to the final, they should have beaten Juventus. They made quite amateur mistakes against Juve – the foul for the penalty in the first leg, even the foul for the free-kick that led to Juventus's goal in the second leg. I wouldn't expect that to happen again."

Clasico crunch

I think Real will be OK but have they strengthened their team this year? To a certain extent they haven't really

Now a pundit for BT Sport, McManaman won two Champions League titles with Real Madrid, who host Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night at Santiago Bernabeu.

But the former England international worries his old club haven't added to their squad significantly this summer. Barcelona, meanwhile, have been unable to do so because of a transfer embargo that will only be lifted in January.

"I think Real will be OK but have they strengthened their team this year? To a certain extent they haven't really," McManaman says. "I still think their best team is with Luka Modric in it. The fact that Benzema and Modric were injured really affected Real last season. If they stay fit they'll always go a long way because they've got too many good players.

"Barça can't strengthen until January and their squad looks a little bit threadbare now they've lost Pedro and Xavi, really experienced players. They've brought a couple of kids through.

"A lot of the time last year Barcelona were quite fortunate with injuries. Their big three stayed fit most of the year and you need to keep your main men fit. If Cristiano Ronaldo gets injured and misses five or six games in the Champions League, Real are going to struggle."

Real failed to sign David de Gea before the transfer window closed, just missing the deadline after a deal was agreed for the Manchester United goalkeeper to move to the Bernabeu.

Keylor Navas, who had been due to move the other way, and Kiko Casilla are now Real's only experienced options, but McManaman is not concerned about the goalkeeping options at Rafa Benitez's disposal.

"I don't necessarily think it will be a problem for them," he affirms. "It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth that the De Gea transfer didn't happen. I don't think anyone came out of it looking good.

"Keylor Navas is probably happy enough to just to forget about it and get on with things because it seemed he was being forced out. But Navas is playing well, he saved a penalty recently against Betis – and Real have been very strong defensively under Rafa at the start of the season."

Bayern's ball

They've brought in Douglas Costa and signed Arturo Vidal from Juventus, and it will take a good team to knock them out

Interestingly, McManaman's tip to win the Champions League this year is not Real or Barça. It's Bayern Munich.

"I think Bayern have invested really well in the summer," he says. "I went over to watch them a couple of times last year and I think the amount of injuries they had, certainly in the latter part of the campaign, really affected them.

"Whether they're going to have the same luck with injuries this season, that's another thing, because Franck Ribery is still struggling.

"But the fact that Arjen Robben should be back, that they've brought in Douglas Costa and signed Arturo Vidal from Juventus, they've got a really good squad and it will take a good team to knock them out.

"I fully expect the English teams to do a lot better than they did last year too, certainly the likes of Manchester City. They'll go a long way this year because they've got so many different players now, players with a lot of speed. Their acquisitions have been really good."

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Chris Flanagan
Chris Flanagan

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.