However, Madrid have saved their best for the continent this campaign and dispatched big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.
Madrid now face off against Juventus in the quarter-finals, a rematch of last year’s final, and while the test is a difficult one, Van der Vaart believes his old club is up to the task of taking home the title for a third straight year.
“Madrid is a great club with fantastic players and facilities,” Van der Vaart told Goal. “[When] they played against PSG, the Parisians had money, but they still couldn’t beat Real Madrid.
“I think Madrid still has got the quality to win the Champions League again. But I’m a little bit surprised that they’re not doing well enough in the La Liga.”
Arguably the favorite in the competition among the eight remaining clubs are Manchester City, who have run away with the Premier League this season and face Liverpool, one of the few teams to have beaten them this year, in the quarter-finals.
Van der Vaart doesn’t disagree with the belief that City are one of the favorites and thinks his old club are the only ones who can take care of Pep Guardiola’s side.
“I think the only one is Real Madrid,” Van der Vaart said when asked if anyone could stop City.
However, while the midfielder thinks City are a quality side, he downplayed their accomplishments, citing the large amount of spend the club have dropped on their squad.
“Everybody nowadays is praising Manchester City and complaining about Arsenal, but to be fair, you have to see things,” Van der Vaart said. “When you or me take charge at Manchester City and have €500 million to spend, we could lead the team to the last four in the Champions League.
“When you have that kind of money, you can buy everything. It’s a pity nowadays that [clubs are allowed] to buy a player for €222 million.”
Van der Vaart does think highly of Pep Guardiola as a manager but believes that his world-beaters in England are in for a different experience when they face off against the best in Europe.
“[Guardiola] showed that he is a great coach in Barcelona, and I think he needs one or two years everywhere to build the team and let the players know what he wants from them,” Van der Vaart said.
“They might be unbeatable in the Premier League, but they won’t make it in the Champions League.”