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Hamburg in Munich

FCB seek to continue improvement

It’s Carnival time in Germany and the atmosphere is merry and light-hearted, but FC Bayern will take a deadly serious approach to the meeting with Hamburger SV at the Allianz Arena on Saturday (Live in English from 15:30 CET on Twitter and FCB.tv Web Radio), when the Bundesliga leaders are not only looking to preserve their eight-point lead in the standings but also move closer to peak form ahead of the following Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 first leg in the Ukraine. “There can be no excuses: we have to take the three points,” confirmed Mario Götze.

“We have to improve our play!” Pep Guardiola used the pre-match press conference to drive home his message on several occasions, as the FCB coach is only partially satisfied with his team’s performances since the winter break. The Spaniard feels his men were “poor” against Wolfsburg, “very good” at home to Schalke, and “not good in the first half, but better in the second” at Stuttgart. “I know this: if we play like we did in these three games we’ll have difficulty defending the Bundesliga title and no chance in the Champions League,” warned Guardiola. “But I also know this: we’ll improve. That’s certain!”

The coach spent much of last week working with his troops on their build-up play. “Our approach play was very slow in the first half against Stuttgart. I hope it’s better tomorrow. We’ve talked about it and worked on it in training,” continued the 44-year-old, who could well turn to fit-again Franck Ribéry and Rafinha on Saturday. “They trained well,” Guardiola reported, and both are “already an option” for the starting line-up. The only definite absentees are long-term injury victims Philipp Lahm, Javi Martínez and Thiago, and suspended centre-back Jérôme Boateng.

Mental agility required

The mood in the dressing room is good, revealed Guardiola, who believes there will be one key factor in the 100th top flight meeting between FCB and HSV: “We need plenty of mental agility.” That will entail precise and rapid passing, minimising the number of times possession is lost, and lightning quick transitions when it is. Hamburg are a direct, counter-attacking side, Guardiola admonished: “They’re very aggressive and quick.”

FCB have not forgotten the reverse fixture on Matchday 4, a 0-0 draw in September last year. “It was tough going,” Guardiola recalled. It was also Joe Zinnbauer’s first match as HSV head coach. “You need a truly special performance if you want to take anything off the best team in the world,” said the Hamburg boss, although the northerners are confident after winning their last two matches: “I’m feeling very positive. It’s not a bad time to test ourselves against opponents of this calibre,” Zinnbauer stated.

So on the pitch at least, the Carnival mood will be missing at the Allianz Arena this weekend. “HSV are on the up,” warned Götze, “we can’t afford a casual approach.”

Latest news from the HSV camp

  • Unavailable: Cleber (ruptured muscle), Diekmeier (knee), Behrami (knee surgery), Holtby (broken collarbone), Lasogga (sprain), Steinmann (knee surgery)
  • Ivica Olic: "We have to avoid conceding for as long as possible and give the same kind of hard-running, battling performance as last week. It's football so anything can happen.“