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Tough task

Van Gaal’s plan for FCB’s World Cup stars

The pre-season phase is entering its final stages, but Bayern coach Louis van Gaal is not a man to be envied at the present time. Eleven of his 25-strong senior squad only reported back to the club last Monday, following their extended post-World Cup leave. Van Gaal has exactly 14 days to knock this group into shape before the DFB Cup meeting with Germania Windeck on 16 August, with the Bundesliga restart fixture against VfL Wolfsburg just four days after that.

“I can’t work as normal. I need a variety of training plans, because we have three or four contrasting groups,” said the Dutchman. Bayern are to a certain extent victims of their own success: it is good for the club to have so many of its players take leading roles on the world stage, but the latecomers also include the spine of last season’s successful line-up.

Stars excused international duty

The players have returned from a three-week break, and the task facing Van Gaal and his staff is to restore their competitive form and fitness as quickly as possible. The job is made no easier by the Supercup, a revived one-off match to be played in Augsburg on Saturday. “I’d like to win it, but it’ll be very hard,” Van Gaal noted. Furthermore, next Tuesday and Wednesday are designated as dates for international friendlies, which would normally see nearly all the FCB men leave the club for a few days just after returning to it.

However, that will largely not be the case this time. The Dutch association has already said it will not call on its World Cup players for next week’s trip to Ukraine, and Germany boss Joachim Löw is likely to follow suit on Friday when he names his squad for an away meeting with Denmark on 11 August. That decision hands Van Gaal two or three potentially crucial extra days with his men.

Aiming higher

On the plus side, the coach is not obliged to integrate any new signings this season, with the exception of Toni Kroos, who returns after a loan spell with Leverkusen. “This time, I know what they can do, and their best positions. Last year I had to get to know 24 or 25 new players.” The same applies in reverse, as the players understand Van Gaal’s philosophy and expectations. As the 59-year-old has repeatedly said, the squad starts “from a much higher level than last year.”

Eleven players resumed training on 21 June, followed by Martin Demichelis and Franck Ribéry on 25 July. For the last group of World Cup stars, Van Gaal and the team headed by training physiologist Jos van Dijk have developed a special programme individually tailored to each player’s needs, designed to have them on form by the time Wolfsburg visit Munich.

Training equivalent to matches

“We measure everything, and we know everything about each player,” reported Van Gaal. Typically for the Dutch boss, the programmes incorporate a high proportion of match-related exercises. Following a warm-up and basic fitness routines, the players always train with the ball, although that is never a reason to slacken off or relax. “With this coach, every session is as hard as a match. He always demands the maximum effort,” Ivica Olic commented.

After observing his World Cup contingent for three full days, Van Gaal handed them a rest on Thursday, before they resume their programmes on Friday. The coach has not entirely ruled out fielding one or two of the group in Saturday’s Supercup. “As you saw last season, I start each player with 45-minute run-outs in pre-season. It's not easy for them to manage 90 minutes in the first week, it’s a risk.” However, no-on doubts Van Gaal’s ability to complete his tough task by August the twentieth.