MADRID, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Real Madrid and their fellow Primera Liga representatives will challenge English dominance of the Champions League this year, coach Bernd Schuster said on Tuesday.
Manchester United beat Chelsea in the final of last season's competition while Liverpool reached the semi-finals. An English team took part in the previous three finals.
This season the Spanish contingent comprises league champions Real, Villarreal, Barcelona, who lost to United in the semi-finals last year, and Atletico Madrid.
"From what we have seen in recent years the English teams are the ones to beat," Schuster told a news conference ahead of Wednesday's Group H opener at home to BATE Borisov.
"I think the Spanish teams will do well. Between us (the Spanish clubs) I believe we will be closer to them this time.
"If we (Real) have all our players available, I am sure we are the equal of any English team."
The nine-times European Cup winners have had a lean time in the Champions League in recent years, going out in the first knockout round in the past four seasons.
"Last year against AS Roma we made two or three basic errors which you cannot do, but it wasn't about a lack of quality," Schuster added. "This is the second year we have all been together. I believe in this team and am confident we can go farther than we did last time."
Real will be without suspended centre back Pepe and midfielder Ruben de la Red, while midfielder Wesley Sneijder is injured. But they are able to count on defenders Sergio Ramos and Fabio Cannavaro, who are back after injury.
In a tough group along with Juventus and Zenit St Petersburg, Schuster agreed a winning start against outsiders BATE Borisov at the Bernabeu was essential.
"You have to win all your home games. We cannot afford a slip up."