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Friends reunited

Neuer and Rafinha up for Schalke clash

First things first: Schalke 04 will not have to fear Pep Guardiola’s skills from free kicks when they visit the Allianz Arena at the weekend. At the end of the Thursday training session the FCB coach took part in a fun shooting competition with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. It seems highly unlikely the 43-year-old Spaniard will line up against the Royal Blues.

By contrast, two former Schalke favourites will be involved in the game: Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who was a Royal Blue for nearly 20 years before joining Bayern, and right-back Rafinha, who wore the Schalke shirt for five seasons before moving on to Genoa en route to FCB in the summer of 2011. Both players are looking forward to the clash with their former club.

Schalke still pose threat

“I always look forward to playing against Schalke and meeting my old friends,” said Rafinha before making his position clear: “I play for Bayern now and I will do all I can to see us win.” And former Schalke shot-stopper Neuer is also looking forward to the reunion, although he sounded a warning ahead of the game against his former team-mates: “I obviously know Schalke better than anyone else in the team and I know their strengths and weaknesses. And I know they’re not just turning up in Munich to let us win.”

The fact Schalke were humbled in a 6-1 home defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night should be of no interest to FCB, currently unbeaten in 47 league matches, as both Neuer and Rafinha agreed. “They’ll show what they’re made of after a defeat like that,” warned Neuer. “The Bundesliga is a completely different competition. They lost yesterday but they could produce a great performance on Saturday,” added Rafinha.

First Schalke, then South Africa

The Bayern camp is not expecting to register as big a win against the Royal Blues as Real Madrid. “It’s important for us to win. It’ll be good if we can play well and create chances. But a 1-0 or 2-0 win will do,” declared Rafinha. The Brazilian does not see any problems with motivation even though Munich are unbeaten in the league for 16 months and hold a clear 19-point lead over Bayer Leverkusen in second spot.

“At Bayern, you always have to win; there’s no other result. It doesn’t matter if you have a lead of 20 or 30 points. Every player knows he can’t afford to relax. There’s a lot of competition in the squad and everybody wants to show what they can do in training and in games,” said Rafinha, who has achieved two big targets in the current campaign with that attitude. He has established himself as a regular with Bayern and was recently called up to the Brazil squad for the first time since 2008.

“I’m happy to be back in the squad,” said the 28-year-old who played his last international for Brazil six years ago in March. Cap number two awaits in next Wednesday’s game against South Africa in Johannesburg. Selecao coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has already announced “he’ll play me,” revealed Rafinha. “I don’t know how long but that’s not so important for me. Whether it’s one minute, five or 90 - it will be great whatever happens. If I have a good game I might be in with a chance of getting to the World Cup.”