presented by
Critical phase

FCB aim for ‘top level’ against Köln

FC Bayern have a packed schedule on the near horizon with five games in 16 days against Köln, Braunschweig, Hannover, Donetskk and Bremen. “We’re entering a critical phase,” sporting director Matthias Sammer told prior to the home Bundesliga meeting with promoted FC Köln on Friday (Live in English from 20:30 CET on Twitter and Web Radio): “I expect every player to be aware of this fact. We need to keep marching on and steadfastly follow our chosen path.”

After the disappointing result away to Wolfsburg in the restart fixture following the winter break, the team has been increasingly on form in recent weeks. Reds’ fans were heartened by the 8-0 demolition of Hamburg and a 6-0 victory away to Paderborn, but the personalities at the club are refusing to get carried away. “They were big wins, but our football still wasn’t fast enough,” Pep Guardiola said on Thursday. The team is of course good, “but obviously we can still get better.”

The Spaniard called for another step forward against Köln, although Guardiola said he is approaching the meeting with the side in 13th “with great respect. They’re very well organised defensively,” the coach said. The Rhineland team have conceded only 25 goals, compared for example to Wolfsburg’s 24. And only FC Bayern have taken more points away from home than Peter Stöger’s team. “We have to control their counter-attacks,” said Sammer, “but the most important thing is for us to reach our top level.”

Benatia not yet fit

Mehdi Benatia, who has been unable to train with the squad this week due to a sprain, is definitely ruled out. Long-term absentees Philipp Lahm, Thiago and Javi Martínez are all making good progress but the Köln clash comes too early for any man to make a comeback. Friday evening will be particularly special for Cologne-born Mitchell Weiser, who made his Bundesliga debut for Köln as a 17-year-old three years ago.

The midfielder switched to Bayern – and scored his first top flight goal in Paderborn last weekend. “It was a really outstanding feeling,” Weiser informed on Thursday. The talented youngster is now determined to make a contribution against his former team-mates. A victory would represent another important step on the road to the title for Bayern – and, said Guardiola, it would be “the best present” on the occasion of the club’s 115th birthday.

Latest news from the FC Köln camp

  • Unavailable: Patrick Helmes (cartilage), Yannick Gerhardt (glandular fever)
  • Coach Peter Stöger: “Anything can happen, from a sensation to a heavy defeat. But as we’ve already shown in games against good opponents, we can rely on our compact formation and team tactics. We’re certainly not giving up on the game before we’ve played it. It’s a huge challenge for us, but also a huge chance to do something exceptional.”