Created on 08-04-2014 at 15:00 PM
The stage is set for a great evening of football in front of a sell-out Allianz Arena crowd, between two of the best teams in the world, and with the tie poised on a knife edge. Pep Guardiola reckons it will be a “do or die” encounter in sporting terms when Bayern entertain England’s most successful club Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final return on Wednesday evening (Live in English from 8.45 pm CET on Twitter and fcbayern.de Web Radio). Following the 1–1 draw in the first meeting a week ago, both sides can realistically progress to the last four, although FCB hold a slight advantage.
The Reds’ precious away goal in Manchester means a goalless draw would be enough to see the holders through to the semis. However, no-one in the Munich camp feels comfortable with aiming for such a negative outcome. “We can’t take risks with the result from Manchester,” Guardiola told Tuesday’s pre-match press conference, “we need a good performance and a win to make the semi-finals. I’m optimistic.“
United strong on the break
Club captain Philipp Lahm agreed. “We want to keep everything under control, so we’re going into the game aiming to win. It’s in our own hands.” However, Lahm knows Wednesday’s opponents are “absolutely world-class with very good and experienced players.” FCB must avoid even the slightest hint of complacency: “We have to be wide awake at all times,” continued Lahm, who is wary of the two-time winners’ (1999, 2008) “dangerous counter-attacks.”
Guardiola and his lieutenants expect the side lying seventh in the Premier League to set out their defensive stall just as in the first leg. “They’ll wait for us to make mistakes. They’ll wait for free-kicks and corners. So it’s important we play intelligent football,” commented Guardiola, who has plenty of experience against English clubs. “They defend deep and hit you on the break, which is what makes them very good. It’s not easy against English teams.” In a potentially good omen, Guardiola led Barcelona to Champions League glory in 2009 and 2011, winning the final against United both times.
Lahm: We must be more inventive
One open question in the build-up is Wayne Rooney’s fitness. “He’ll play. I’m 100 percent sure of it,” declared Guardiola. Anything short of a genuinely serious injury will surely not prevent the England international starting the most important match of United’s season. Even without the injured Robin van Persie, the Red Devils boast prolific strike options in the shape of Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa.
“We’ll need another good defensive performance,” noted Lahm: the Premier League side created only two real chances at Old Trafford. On the other hand, FCB will need more precision in attack. “We lacked the killer pass and decisive touch in the box in Manchester,” the club captain recalled. Guardiola touched on the same point: “We want to be as dominant as we were in Manchester, but we have to improve in attack and create more chances.“
Limited selection options
The Spaniard’s team selection will be heavily influenced by a long list of absentees. Last weekend Tom Starke, Xherdan Shaqiri and Lukas Raeder joined an injury roster already including Thiago, Diego Contento and Holger Badstuber. On top of that Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez are suspended. “We still have 14 players for the first team,” said Guardiola. “Losing players is never positive,” remarked Lahm, “we don’t have many men left.”
Despite the missing players Guardiola has a plan to unpick United’s defence. “I know how we need to play,” he insisted, although he declined to reveal any details. But the boss is convinced his players will “summon up their best form. The goal is to win tomorrow and maintain our chance of retaining the Champions League.”