(Reuters) – Manchester City assistant coach Mikel Arteta believes the Premier League champions have the best players in the world but that holders Real Madrid are favourites to win the Champions League again this season.
Arteta, who will lead City in their Champions League opener against Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday because manager Pep Guardiola is suspended, also said that his team were better placed to challenge for top European honours this season.
“For me we have the best players in the world at this club,” Arteta told a news conference on Tuesday. “I see them every day in training and I wouldn’t change them for any others because they are fantastic.”
Real, who sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus before the season started, have won the Champions League three years in a row, but City are the bookmakers’ favourites this year despite falling at the quarter-final stage last season.
“It’s a surprise to be made favourites when there is a team out there that has won the competition three times in a row,” Arteta added.
“Even if they have lost Cristiano Ronaldo, I’d still make Real Madrid the main favourites because of their history and experience. But I do think the Champions League is going to be quite open this season.
“Other people think we are candidates to compete against the best teams in Europe because of how consistent we have been and the way we play against big teams. Our aim is to win the Champions League and we feel we are improving.”
The Spaniard, who was linked to the coach’s job at Arsenal in the close season before the London club appointed Unai Emery as Arsene Wenger’s successor, also said he wanted to make the step up to manager in the future.
“I’m privileged to be where I am in football right now,” Arteta added. “If you’re asking will I be a coach one day in the future the answer is probably yes, but I feel lucky to be in this job and there’s still a lot of room for this club to grow.”
Guardiola is serving a touchline ban for coming on to the pitch to remonstrate with the referee during his side’s quarter-final defeat by Liverpool last season, but Arteta is determined to do his best to make sure the manager’s absence is not felt.
“Obviously (Guardiola) is disappointed not to be as involved, but he had a reaction in the last game and we respect UEFA’s decision,” Arteta said.
“We have a situation that we wouldn’t choose, but we will do our best to make sure everything else is as normal as possible.”
City have been drawn in Group F, which also includes Germany’s Hoffenheim and Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)