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Bundesliga showdown

FCB primed for ‘big, big, big rivals’ Bayer

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Saturday’s meeting at the Allianz Arena between FC Bayern and Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Live in English from 18.30 CET on Twitter and Web Radio) fully deserves its billing as the big game of the Bundesliga weekend: it is the clash of the clubs in second and third, and the two best teams in the league over the last ten years in terms of accumulated points. Pep Guardiola was justified in describing the Werkself, literally ‘Works Team’, as “big, big, big rivals for the title.” Matthias Sammer spoke of “top opponents, meaning we’ll need a top performance.”

However, the champions have a few selection concerns in defence. Four centre-backs are unavailable: Jérôme Boateng is suspended and Mehdi Benatia, Holger Badstuber and Javi Martínez miss out with injury. “It’s obviously a big problem,” admitted Guardiola. Apart from Dante, the FCB coach identified Xabi Alonso, David Alaba and Rafinha as options, although he believes the best way to cope is to close the defensive gaps “with a show of team unity.”

Arjen Robben refused to be ruffled by the situation. “We have a strong squad and enough quality,” argued the newly-installed Netherlands captain. “We’re ready for the game,” said Rafinha, buoyed by the Reds’ perfect start to the season. However, Leverkusen are also on the maximum six points, “and they have a special style of play,” noted Guardiola: “They always pressure you on the ball, you have no time to think.”

Wary of Calhanoglu

The answer is “intelligent play,” the Spaniard said, letting the ball do the work when in possession and chasing it down when not. Munich must also beware  Leverkusen’s free-kick specialist Hakan Calhanoglu. “We have to stop him as best we can,” said Guardiola, “but it’s tough.”

Only 68 hours lie between Leverkusen’s successful but demanding Champions League qualifier against Lazio and kick-off in Munich, but no-one at Bayern thinks the Rhineland side will be tired. “They’ll run and fight for the full 90 minutes,” declared Guardiola. The 75,000 crowd at the Allianz Arena should enjoy a truly big game.

Pre-match news from Leverkusen:

Coach Roger Schmidt: “We’ll need to defend brilliantly and keep the ball as far as possible from our own area. We’re in the groove, we’ve had plenty of match practice and we learned last season how to go to the limit every three days. It’s always a fine line, but if we take our chances and make the right attacking decisions we’ll be worthy opponents.”
Asked if new signing Kevin Kampl might make the squad: “It’s worth considering, but it obviously depends on whether his registration is completed in time.”

Hakan Calhanoglu: “If we play like we did against Lazio we have a chance, even in Munich.”

Unavailable: Aranguiz, Toprak (both Achilles surgery), Jedvaj (hamstring)