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Robben to return?

FCB face ‘huge challenge' in Hamburg

Some things never change, and so it is that the north-south clash between FC Bayern and Hamburger SV remains one of the biggest draws in German football. Wednesday evening’s latest instalment in the long-running saga is no exception and has the added spice of being a DFB Cup second round tie, meaning there must be a winner at the end of the showdown in the northern port city.

“We have a huge challenge ahead of us,” warned Pep Guardiola on the eve of the game at the Imtech Arena. “It’s a final, and the cup is always dangerous for the bigger teams.” The head coach even billed the encounter in Hamburg as Bayern’s “most important match” for the time being: “Either we continue our progress, or we’re out!”

Guardiola also reminded his press conference audience of HSV’s undoubted ability and resilience, attributes which earned them a goalless draw with FCB in the Bundesliga six weeks ago. “Hamburg cover a lot of ground and they’re very aggressive,” said the Spaniard, singling out Pierre-Michel Lasogga for special praise. “He’s very dangerous and we’ll need to control him.”

Magic of the cup

Hamburg are the Bundesliga’s only ever-present members but are struggling in 16th this term with just six points. Guardiola refuses to be taken in by that and dismissed the idea that HSV could yet be relegated: “It’s not possible. They have too much heart. Of course they’ll lose matches, but if they can play with so much character for the whole season, they’ll stay in the league.”

Guardiola will be forced into at least one team change, as Mehdi Benatia carries a one-match suspension over with him from his last Italian cup appearance with AS Roma and will likely be replaced by Jérôme Boateng. Arjen Robben could also return after completing the final pre-match workout.

The most recent meeting between the teams has prompted cautious optimism in Hamburg. Coach Joe Zinnbauer’s first game in charge brought the northerners an unexpected point, “although Bayern weren’t in such good form at the time and had more top players injured,” cautioned the Hamburg boss, whose position has now been made permanent. “We start again from scratch,” Zinnbauer stated.