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Top-of-the-table clash

Boss: We need courage to quell BVB threat

The thrill and allure of Bayern versus Dortmund captures the imagination of most football enthusiasts, and Pep Guardiola is no exception. The fixture has become a mouth-watering encounter and comfortably the biggest match in the German game. It’s no wonder the Bayern coach took to the podium at the media centre for Friday lunchtime’s press conference with a broad grin on his face. He is as excited as any fan or supporter. “We play and coach for games like this,” Guardiola declared on the eve of the Bundesliga showdown away to Borussia Dortmund (Live in English from 6.30 pm CET Saturday on Twitter and Web Radio). “We’re really lucky we have this opportunity. It’s a big, big match.”

However, the big match is lacking some of its big names. Bayern’s injury roster is headed by Franck Ribéry (fractured rib) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (ankle surgery), with Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro and Holger Badstuber also sidelined. They are all important players, but Guardiola takes a stern line on such matters: “It can’t be an excuse. I hate excuses!“ Naturally, the injuries have caused “a bit of a problem, but I’m mainly sad for the players,” the coach remarked.

BVB are in the grip of an injury crisis of their own. Defenders Neven Subotic (cruciate), Mats Hummels (ligaments) and Marcel Schmelzer (calf) are all out, and Lukasz Piszczek is not yet match fit after a hip operation, so boss Jürgen Klopp will send out an unfamiliar back four. Emergency signing Manuel Friedrich, the former Germany international who was without a club, will provide a partial solution until the end of the season.

Better against a full-strength team

The 34-year-old last played on 18 May this year for Leverkusen away to Hamburg and is likely to join forces with Greek stopper Sokratis in central defence. “He’s in exceptionally good shape in terms of stamina,” reported Klopp. Other options in the back four include Sven Bender or veteran captain Sebastian Kehl. Schmelzer’s usual understudy Erik Durm is fit and likely to play.

Whatever the permutations, both Bayern and BVB will send out powerful teams. “Anything is possible,” said Klopp, “and we should treat this possibility with great responsibility.” Guardiola and Matthias Sammer would even have preferred Borussia to be at full strength. “The situation is such that they’re attracting a very strong sympathy vote,” reflected the Bayern board director for sport. “I just hope it doesn’t distract us.”

Pep: Dortmund better than Real

In Guardiola’s opinion, Saturday’s rivals are “the best team in the world at transitions.” At Barcelona, the coach recalled, he had often sent out teams against Real Madrid, another excellent counter-attacking team with the lightning quick front pair of Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo. But Dortmund were another level up, “with six or seven players” racing towards the opposing goal once their team regains possession. “If we let them run at us we don’t stand a chance,” Guardiola warned.

The Spaniard called on his men to show courage and commitment in front of the 80,000 full house at Signal Iduna Park. “Otherwise it will be impossible to win. We have to concentrate on doing our jobs and playing our football. We have to play as well as we possibly can,” insisted Guardiola, who then hurried from the press conference to take charge of his players in the Performance Center. And the stars are looking forward to the German Clasico just as much as their boss.