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Van Gaal confident:

‘Ribéry will be even better than before’

Standing in front of the tactics chalkboard, Louis van Gaal was truly in his element. “We never play like this, we always play in our opponents’ half,” the Bayern coach informed TV presenter Markus Othmer, and positioned his players – represented by magnets bearing portrait shots of the FCB stars – in areas high up the field. After briefly sorting the magnets, he had his current first-choice team exactly where he wants them.

Van Gaal placed the Ribéry magnet on the touchline. “Ribery can be a key player, but he also needs to get fit first,” commented the 58-year-old. The Frenchman has come on as a substitute twice in the last two matches, exactly the procedure followed when Arjen Robben was returning from injury. “Before the mid-season break, Robben started on the bench three times, because he wasn’t fully fit. Then he completed the training camp in Dubai, and now he’s very fit.”

Robben capable of improvement

Ribéry has been training “very well” for two weeks now, continued Van Gaal, noting the player’s clear improvement against Mainz compared to his run-out in Bremen. “And he’ll come back even better than he was before – or so I hope.” Even the on-fire Robben “could do even better,” insisted Van Gaal. The statement almost sounded like a threat directed at Bayern’s rivals.

Van Gaal was speaking during his second lengthy appearance on German TV. Shortly before Christmas, he was a studio guest on ZDF’s Sportstudio , while Monday evening saw him appear on Bavarian TV’s Blickpunkt Sport. The general public has rarely seen the FCB boss in such an approachable and humorous mood. Asked what he would do if he was in Ribéry’s shoes, he replied: “I’d stay at Bayern, because they have a good coach and they’re improving all the time.”

Van Gaal full of praise

Van Gaal’s start in Munich was not easy, as FCB slipped to an unaccustomed mid-table position. However, Bayern have been marching up the standings since late November, running up nine wins on the bounce in all competitions, and are very much in the hunt for honours on three fronts. The coach was expecting that to happen. “I said it would be difficult, as far back as my unveiling. I like to let brains rather than legs do the work. I ask a lot of my players, and it’s hard for them at first.”