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Pep: I’m optimistic

FCB primed for must-win Shakhtar clash

Watching Pep Guardiola during Bayern’s final pre-match training session on Tuesday, it was clear the head coach was already in what psychologists call the flow state. While his troops passed balls to and fro, the Spaniard prowled the practice ground, his head bowed and a hand on his brow. With a day and a half still to go before the Champions League Round of 16 return at home to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday (Live in English from 20:45 CET on Twitter and FREE Web Radio), the FC Bayern coach was deep in thought. Naturally, there is plenty of positive tension prior to the biggest game of the season so far. “It’s either top or flop,” as Holger Badstuber declared.

In the light of the goalless draw when the teams first met in Lviv three weeks ago, Bayern must win the Allianz Arena clash, whereas any scoring draw would see Shakhtar through to the quarter-finals. “It’s dangerous,” acknowledged Badstuber, “it won’t be easy against a very good team.” However, FCB are not short on confidence. “We’ve settled on a game plan. We’re really looking forward to it,” Badstuber said. Team-mate Franck Ribéry added: “We have a good chance because we’re the home team.”

FCB have won 15 of their 16 matches at the Arena this term. On top of that, Wednesday’s match will be the first Champions League game attended by a newly increased capacity crowd numbering 70,000. That could be a crucial factor for Bayern, whose on-field strategy will be to contain the Ukrainians’ lightning-fast counter attacks. “The idea for tomorrow is unchanged,” confirmed Guardiola, “but we need to create more chances at the other end.”

Xabi suspended

As always, the Spaniard declined to reveal his selection thinking at the pre-match press conference. The only certainties are the players who cannot feature: Xabi Alonso serves a one-match ban, Thiago and Javi Martínez are still sidelined with injury, and although captain Philipp Lahm resumed the team training programme on Monday, he remains some way off match fitness.

“I’m optimistic. I have great faith in my players,” reported Guardiola. However, the 44-year-old reminded his listeners, Shakhtar are an exceptional team. “I’m certain they’d be title candidates if they played here in Germany,” the coach admonished, so although his men start as favourites, they cannot afford any hint of complacency. “We can qualify for the next round – or pack up and go home,” the boss concluded.