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Leverkusen, then Barça

FCB vow ‘serious approach’ to Bayer clash

FC Bayern last visited the BayArena in Leverkusen just over three weeks ago for a DFB Cup quarter-final, where the sides played out 120 closely-fought, evenly-matched and goalless minutes before the Reds won through 5-3 on penalties. Pep Guardiola’s men are back in the Rhineland on Saturday evening (Live in English from 18:30 CET on Twitter and Web Radio) on Bundesliga Matchday 31, but the circumstances surrounding the match are totally different this time.

“Leverkusen are fighting for a direct Champions League qualifying position, but we have no more targets. We’ve done it already. The Bundesliga is over. We’ve already won it,” Guardiola stated on Friday. FCB were formally confirmed as champions last weekend, “so we’re focused on next Wednesday,” the coach continued, making no secret of his priority following the unlucky cup semi-final exit to Borussia Dortmund last Tuesday. The Champions League trip to Barcelona is the only thing that really matters now.

However, that does not mean FCB will meekly surrender to in-form Leverkusen – quite the opposite in fact. “We’ll definitely show up and try to win,” declared Thomas Müller. And even though Bayer have it all to play for and are unbeaten in nine in the league, keeper Bernd Leno said he and his team-mates are expecting a “fierce fight. Bayern certainly won’t want to head for Barcelona with a bad feeling.”

Comeback beckons for Martínez

Munich’s aim is a successful warm-up for the last four clash in Europe’s elite club competition, but Bayer need points in the effort to qualify directly for next season’s group stage. Going into the 31st round of matches Leverkusen are fourth, two points behind Borussia Mönchengladbach. “We’ll fight for third place with everything we’ve got,” declared Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt.

Munich’s cause has not been helped by another round of injuries to key players sustained in the cup clash with BVB. Arjen Robben’s season is over due to a torn calf muscle, and Robert Lewandowski is sidelined on Saturday with a fractured cheekbone and concussion. Franck Ribéry, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Tom Starke are also out. “We have 15 players at the moment,” Guardiola said prior to training on Friday.

With an eye on the game in Barcelona, Guardiola will rest some of his stars if possible. “Wherever we can rotate, we will,” announced the Spaniard, although he is anxious to avoid any suggestion of Bayer gaining an unfair advantage due to FCB fielding a weakened side: “We must take it seriously.” And there could be a very welcome comeback for Javi Martínez from a nine-month lay-off: “He might be able to play,” Guardiola said.

Pre-match news from Bayer Leverkusen:

  • Unavailable: Kyriakos Papadopoulos (shoulder), Gonzalo Castro (knee surgery), Robbie Kruse (rehab), Emir Spahic (contract terminated)

  • Coach Roger Schmidt: “After going out of the DFB Cup to Dortmund, Bayern will want to boost their confidence and composure ready for the Barcelona match. Whatever their coach decides, they’ll send out a top team.”