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'Pay attention'

Beware ‘awkward’ Darmstadt, Guardiola warns

This week has been a case of ‘long time, no see’ for FC Bayern. Prior to Wednesday evening’s Champions League opener away to Olympiacos in Piraeus, it had been 32 years since the Reds last played in Greece. Pep Guardiola’s troops are now poised for another reunion: after a 34-year break dating back to August 1981, FCB resume competitive hostilities with SV Darmstadt 98 on Saturday afternoon (Live in English from 15.30 CET on Twitter and Web Radio).

The stats underline just how long has passed since Munich won the last meeting between the clubs 2-1 with goals from Kurt Niedermayer and Dieter Hoeneß. Of the current squad only Xabi Alonso and Tom Starke had actually been born at the time of the match – and the equivalent figure for Darmstadt is none. But all that is history, and in the present FCB can expect “a very difficult match” on Saturday, Guardiola predicted.

Lilies still unbeaten

“They’re awkward opponents due to the way they play,” explained the coach, praising the Hesse club’s “very special quality. They do what they do very, very well. They take a completely different approach compared to other teams. We have to adapt to Darmstadt.” Issuing an instruction in English, Guardiola warned his men to “pay attention” when they travel to the venerable Stadion am Böllenfalltor, where the last of the 17,000 tickets was sold weeks ago.

“Darmstadt have no business being in the Bundesliga!” declared Lilies boss Dirk Schuster, true to his line of downplaying his side’s chances since their unexpected and stunning promotion to the top flight last spring. Despite minimal resources and a shoestring budget, Darmstadt have rocketed from the fourth tier to the first in recent years. Written off as gallant no-hopers by most pundits, they remain unbeaten this term and beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 away from home last week, their first Bundesliga win in over 33 years. “They play ‘wow’,” Guardiola admiringly commented.

'Huge challenge' for minnows

“We’ve been gripped by euphoria here for a year and a half,” noted Schuster. “We have great respect, but we’re not scared. We’ll try and use the virtues we have: big hearts, passion, and a willingness to run.” The plan against “the best team in Germany and arguably the world,” is to “turn in a decent performance, and maybe irritate them just a little bit,” Schuster continued. However, the former defender observed: “We face a huge challenge. It’ll be brutally hard.”

Schuster’s squad is close to full strength, but Bayern may be forced into changes as they pursue a fifth win in five league games this term. Guardiola declined to rule out a degree of rotation, especially as Robert Lewandowski, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso all picked up knocks in Piraeus. “They’re not badly injured but I don’t know if they can play tomorrow,” the Spaniard said.