Manchester City is favourite to win Champions League, says Jofre Mateu

The former midfielder also spoke about Barcelona bowing out from the competition, the Messi situation and more.

Jofre Mateu (Right) played in the Indian Super League for Atletico De Kolkata (now ATK Mohun Bagan).   -  THE HINDU

The Round of 16 stage of the UEFA Champions League is currently on, with some of the teams having finished their second legs and awaiting the results of the other teams.

The one team which bowed out of the competition this week was former champion Barcelona, which was knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain 5–2 on aggregate.

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The last few years have been difficult for the Catalonian club in the competition and its former midfielder Jofre Mateu, speaking exclusively to Sportstar from his home in Spain, explained the reasons behind it, on Messi staying at the club and more:

Q. Joan Laporta was named the new Barcelona President earlier this week. Do you think he is the right fit for the role and has he got it in him to convince Lionel Messi to stay at the club and finish his career here?

A news appeared in Spain earlier this week that Lionel Messi was supposed to have a meeting last week with his father in Miami with people from Paris and he cancelled that meeting because of Laporta. I guess he is going to be the one who can convince Messi. If there is someone, it could be him because of the past. But it is not sure because of the financial moment of the club. If Messi is still trying to keep the salary in the same way, then I think it is not going to be possible.

Is he the right man for the job? Coming from the past, the most successful era of the club was when Laporta was at the helm. But nowadays, we need something more. We need a project. The financial situation of the club is absolutely disastrous, so I am not sure. We have our hopes on him, but Victor Font i Mante, who was the other candidate, has the bigger project, but not the feeling which Laporta is transferring to the supporters.

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Barcelona was knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday. Where do you think it has been going wrong for them in the competition in the last few years?

I think Barcelona is a little stuck in past success. They are trying to involve Messi in their way to understand the game all the time. They are not running a lot. The teams in modern football are fast, strong and have a lot of power and Barcelona is still trying to play calmly, keeping the ball, long possessions, walking on the field and it is not possible.

In Spain, they can fight for the title, but in Europe, the last 3-4 seasons has shown that it is not possible. Having Messi, you still have a chance, but not enough.

How much of a task do you feel Ronald Koeman has in his hands to oversee the transition at the club and if there is one player he must go after in the next transfer window, who should that player be?

It is like a half revolution, with no Luis Suarez, no Ivan Rakitic, no Arturo Vidal. We are trying to renew the team with young players with speed, the likes of Pedri, Ilaix who are from the La Masia academy, but it is not enough. 

I think he (Ronald Koeman) is doing a great job. Let us see what happens at the end of the season. I am not sure without a title, he is going to be there next season, with the new president and everything.

As far as the player he should go for, everyone is talking about Memphis Depay. Koeman knows him from the Netherlands national team, something that can help, with the new system that they are playing. Eric Garcia is another option, but Barcelona does have players at the back now.

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A striker with different skills, with speed, who can score a lot of goals and has a killer instinct. 

Depay can score goals, can play very well, understands the game, and has a good connection with Koeman. He maybe does not have the killer instinct. I think Barcelona is looking at Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, but considering the financial situation, they are looking at someone at a lower price. 

What have you made of the Champions League round of 16 matches that have happened so far and which result has surprised you the most across all matches?

Probably Porto . It is not a big surprise. We have seen in the group stage that Porto is a very tough team. They are absolutely awesome, defensively but I was expecting Juventus to come good in Turin with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks and I think I wasn’t the only one, but that result was probably the biggest surprise. 

Looking ahead, Barca’s two biggest Spanish rivals- Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will be in action in their second legs next week. How do you see their chances of qualifying in the second leg?

For Atletico Madrid, I think it is going to be very difficult. They are doing well in La Liga, but the last month has been tough for them. I think Chelsea is building something very interesting. They are a very compact team. For me, the chances for Atletico are few. They are only 0–1 down, but I am betting on Chelsea to progress.

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Real Madrid, at home with the away goal advantage, are not yet clear, but I would say it is 60–40 in their favour. Atalanta had one less man in the first leg and Real Madrid suffers against these kinds of teams, which are fast, apply high pressure with lots of transitions, but I will give Real Madrid a 60–40 chance of progressing. 

There are quite a few quality teams still left in the competition. Who, for you, is the favourite to win the title from them and why?

If Manchester United was still part of the competition, for me it is the fittest team at this moment. But without United, the other Manchester team- Manchester City- is the favourite. City has the skills that it had the last season in terms of attacking, but correcting the defence, with the likes of Ruben Dias has given them solidity at the back. They are focused on concentrating on their non-ball situation. I think Pep Guardiola has corrected the things that they need to win the tournament.

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Antonio Habas is someone that you played under and won the Indian Super League (ISL) title in 2014. He has reached yet another final, which will happen on Sunday. What do you think are his attributes as a coach which has made his taste success in the ISL? 

Habas is a winner. He is talented, his personality, he is a huge winner. You can see in every action that he takes that he is a huge winner, He transferred his power, his courage to the players. 

He has a lot of experience in India and knows how to probably connect with the people there. I think Sergio Lobera (Mumbai City FC manager) is doing a great job too and it is not easy to predict what is going to happen. But it is a big success that both are there and I wish them the best. 

Who do you think is the favourite to win?

For me, it is ATK Mohun Bagan. But you never know.

Watch the UEFA Champions League on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 (in Hindi) channels