Champions League

Bayern Munich Coach Under Pressure

pep-imago-action pictures
Coach Pep Guardiola needs a victory.

Mr. Guardiola has already called the match “a final.”

The Spaniard, a gifted player and successful coach at Barcelona before coming to Munich, knows what’s at stake – millions of euros in prize money, a cut of the lucrative broadcasting rights and, what money can’t easily buy, prestige.

Coaches, players and clubs like to boast about their participation in the European championship of soccer, the so-called Champions League that pits the best professional teams from different nations against each other.

The tournament is a showcase for the world’s top soccer talent.

It’s make-or-break time for Bayern Munich to advance to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. The injury-ravaged team lost to Porto 3-1 in the first leg of the home-and-away series in Portugal last week and will need to make up a two-goal difference in the return match in Munich on Tuesday.

Away goals are used as a tiebreaker in Champions League knock-out rounds. Bayern Munich would advance with a 2-0 victory, but if Porto scores a single goal, Bayern will need to knock in another to go on.

“ I’m completely confident that my players will take their chances and for me, as the coach, that’s enough.”

Pep Guardiola,, Coach of Bayern Munich

“Of course, we’re behind,” Mr. Guardiola, a longtime former defensive midfielder for Barcelona, said at a news conference. “But I’m completely confident that my players will take their chances and for me, as the coach, that’s enough.”

A big question is who is fit to play.

In the first leg, Mr. Guardiola was missing half a dozen world-class players due to injuries, including captain Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Albaand and Javi Martinez.

Of this group, only Mr. Lahm and Mr. Schweinsteiger are expected to be in Tuesday’s line-up, together with another key player Thiago Alcantara, back in action after a long injury.

Forward Thomas Müller said he’s ready for the challenge. “A 2-0 victory at home wouldn’t be a wonder of the world, but we’ve still got to go out and do it,” he said at the news conference. “I like having a bit of pressure.”

Maybe he should swap jobs with Mr. Guardiola, who was hired to fill the big shoes of his successor, Jupp Heynckes, the first coach to win all three major competitions in 2013: the Champions League, the Bundesliga, the regular season championship of the German league, and the German DFB Cup, a tournament that pits the country’s best teams from all major and minor leagues against each other.

As is often the case in Europe, the leagues and tournaments are played in parallel to each other. In even-numbered years, players are also pulled to play on national teams in the World Cup or European Cup tournaments, too.


Video: Bayern Munich prepares for the match against Porto.

The pressure is rising.

Bayern Munich has won the European Champions League championship five times and reached the final three times since 2010.

Last year, Bayern lost both legs of the semifinal to Real Madrid.

The sudden departure of Bayern’s long-time team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt shows how tense the situation is in Munich, as the team chases a treble of titles.

Mr. Müller-Wohlfahrt, an iconic figure on the Bayern bench, said he quit after being blamed indirectly for the club’s defeat last week in Porto because of the long list of injured players.

A feud between him and Mr. Guardiola had been brewing ever since the coach allowed Mr. Alcantara to return to Spain to be treated in Barcelona for his knee injury.

“People don’t know how difficult out situation is,” the coach told reporters after Bayern’s 2-1 weekend victory over Hoffenheim, which has kept the club on course to win the Bundesliga German regular season championship.

He left Xabia Alonso, Jerome Boateng and Mr. Alcantara on the bench at the start of the game to give them a rest.

“It's the biggest game of the season.”

Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich Goalkeeper

The Portuguese team rested nine starters over the weekend, including goalkeeper Helton da Silva Aurrda, who arrived in Munich with a ukulele to demonstrate the team’s buoyant mood. The team has yet to lose a Champions League match this season. It last won the tournament in 2004.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is no less buoyant and remains in top form. Mr. Neuer, who spectacularly denied Porto’s Anthony Modest a one-on-one shot after a defensive blunder by the Brazilian Dante, said in a television interview that the team knows “it’s the biggest game of the season.”

Mr. Guardiola, who until last week had only ever recorded wins as a player and a coach against Porto, now desperately needs to beat the Portuguese in Munich.

 

John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. He is not a particularly big fan of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga but will be glued to the tube on Tuesday evening. To contact the author: blau@handelsblatt.com

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