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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Real Madrid, not Manchester City, are favourites to win Uefa Champions League, insists Mikel Arteta

City's assistant manager will take charge of the group stage opener against Lyon on Wednesday while Guardiola serves a touchline ban

Mikel Arteta attends a press conference on the eve of the Uefa Champions League match between Manchester City and Lyon. AFP
Mikel Arteta attends a press conference on the eve of the Uefa Champions League match between Manchester City and Lyon. AFP

Manchester City rejected suggestions they are the favourites to win the Uefa Champions League, with Mikel Arteta declaring that Real Madrid deserve that title, but the assistant manager displayed his confidence by declaring Pep Guardiola has the best squad in the world.

Whereas City have only reached one Champions League semi-final and were knocked out in the quarter-finals last season, Madrid have become the first club since Bayern Munich in the 1970s to become European champions in three successive seasons and, while Cristiano Ronaldo has left to join Juventus, Arteta had no hesitation in declaring them the likeliest winners again.

“It has to be Real Madrid; they have something special in this competition,” he said. “They deal with every detail better. The rest have to catch up. I am surprised [some made City favourites] when you have a team that won it three times in a row but that means we are doing things really well.

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“For me, we have the best players in the world and I look at our players as if they are the best. I wouldn’t change my players for any others. They are absolutely fantastic. The hunger is this group is incredible.”

Arteta did not hide the fact City’s ambition is to conquer Europe. “That is the aim,” he said. “We have a very young squad. They gain a lot of experience in the last two years and we feel we are better prepared.”

City’s chances disappeared in last season’s quarter-final first leg when they conceded three times in 19 minutes to Liverpool and Arteta added: “The moment you make a mistake, five minutes of not paying attention, you are out.”

The Liverpool tie had other repercussions. Manager Guardiola was sent to the stands in the second leg and now serves a touchline ban, meaning Arteta will be in charge in the dugout against Lyon on Wednesday night.

“It is a good challenge,” he said. “If I had to choose, I would choose Pep on the touchline, because he does that job better than anyone else. But there are some rules we must respect. We can have no communication.”

Arteta could have been managing in his own right by now, when the former Arsenal captain was a contender to replace Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium in the summer, until Unai Emery was instead appointed.

But the 36-year-old Spaniard, who still harbours ambitions to be a manager, insisted he had no regrets, adding: “I am privileged to be where I am. I feel very fulfilled. If you ask if one day in the future I will be a coach, the answer is probably yes but I am privileged to be where I am.”

He is confident his understanding of his compatriot’s beliefs will stand him in good stead as he stands in for Guardiola.

“We share the same philosophy,” he said. “We click really quickly and understand each other really well and we think in the same direction. My learning in the last two years has been incredible.”

Defender Aymeric Laporte is confident in Arteta’s abilities, explaining: “We are going to get plenty of advice from Mikel, who works a lot with us. We all get on well with him. He knows what the players are thinking. He is a great coach as far as I am concerned.”

The Frenchman remains uncapped and was omitted from Didier Deschamps’ World Cup-winning squad, which has prompted suggestions the former Athletic Bilbao player could qualify for Spain and represent them.

But he ruled that out, adding: “I don’t think it is possible. If anything, I will play for France. But if I get selected, that is up to the manager, not up to me.”