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Mission: Top the group

Test of mental strength in Moscow winter chaos

Scarves, hats and warm training jackets. A couple of fleece pullovers. Usually we would see the Bayern pros in suits, but this time they left their formal outfits at home. Prepared for the challenge, the stars from Munich set off on Tuesday morning, heading into the ice-cold Russian winter. They flew to Moscow, venue for the fifth game of this season’s Champions League group stage against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday evening (Live in English from 6 pm CET on Twitter and FCB.tv Web Radio). “I don't know what condition the pitch will be in, but it will definitely be cold,” Arjen Robben predicted before he set off, “but it was cold in Dortmund too.”

With a smile the Dutchman said goodbye, heading towards the Lufthansa charter plane that left Munich airport approximately 45 minutes late at 9.45 am. On arrival around 4 pm local time (the time difference is +3 hours), Robben was proven right, and everyone noticed that Moscow is not the most pleasant of places at the end of November. The German team were greeted by snow, temperatures below freezing and an unbelievable amount of traffic, all of which combined to force the cancellation of Bayern’s final training session in the snow-covered Khimki stadium.

However, Bayern refuse to be knocked out of their stride. “We have to deal with the conditions,” Pep Guardiola said. “We’ll go into this game like the professionals we are.” Nothing but a win is an acceptable result for the champions of Europe: it would be their tenth straight Champions League victory, beating current record holders Barcelona. Phillip Lahm described this benchmark as “tempting. We want to be the sole record holders, and maintain our winning streak for as long as possible.”

Robben demands ‘focused performance'

The Reds go into the game having already qualified for the Round of 16. The priority now is to secure top position in the group. A win in Moscow alone cannot secure first place, as Manchester City would have to fail to beat Plzen, who are rooted to the bottom of the group without any points. The more likely scenario is that the match between Bayern and Manchester City in December will determine the winners of the group. However, victory against CSKA would put the Germans in an “amazing position,” as Uli Hoeneß said. Lahm added: ”We want to win, and we want to top the group.”

CSKA will do their best to stop Bayern. The Russians, who are fourth in their domestic league, have won their last four competitive matches and can secure the Europa League spot as third in the Champions League group with a win against Bayern. “Playing in Moscow in the Champions League is never easy,” Robben said. “We have to give a focused performance.”

According to club president Hoeneß, Guardiola's team cannot take the game “lightly,” but he also trusts the Bayern stars: ”The team has shown they perform well under pressure and when they’re favourites.” Guardiola reckons the game against Moscow will be a “question of our mental strength,” after the exhausting match against Dortmund, especially as CSKA are always “hard to play” in November. The Bayern coach is without Mario Mandzukic, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry, Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro and Diego Contento, all due to injuries.

Guardiola knows his team will have to perform “super, super well” if they are to wake up on Thursday morning knowing the three points are safely in the bag. The omens are hardly the best after a turbulent journey, but this is no excuse. “We have a lot of confidence!” Robben declared.