Madrid - Pep Guardiola says he is relishing returning to Spain with FC Bayern München, but accepts that nothing but an “exceptional performance” will suffice if the German champions are to stand a chance of collecting a positive result in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg (kick-off: 18.45 GMT/20:45 CEST) against Real Madrid CF.
Guardiola, who enjoyed a hugely successful spell as coach of Madrid’s fierce rivals FC Barcelona between 2008 and 2012, saw his Bayern side labour to a 2-0 victory over rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig in the Bundesliga on Saturday, but the Catalan is expecting his team to step up to the plate at the home of the Spanish giants – whom Bayern beat at the same stage of Europe's premier club competition three seasons ago.
“Of course it’s special for me to be back here,” said the 43-year-old, who as coach has been beaten only twice in 15 previous encounters with Real. “I love playing here in Spain and I’m delighted to be in the semi-finals of the Champions League. We’re playing against one of the best teams in the world, so it’s a very special match for me and the club. We’re going to need an exceptional performance to take something from the Bernabeu.”
Manuel Neuer was the hero on Bayern’s last visit to the 80,000-seater stadium in the Spanish capital. The Germany stopper saved spot-kicks from Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka as Bayern advanced to the ill-fated Finale dahoam on penalties after drawing 3-3 on aggregate. Ronaldo, top scorer in this season’s Champions League with 14 goals, has recently been sidelined with a thigh injury, but Guardiola hopes the 29-year-old will be fit to face the German record titleholders, despite the threat the 2013 FIFA Ballon winner poses to his team.
“I hope Ronaldo will play. I always like to see the best players play in these sorts of games,” admitted Bayern’s head coach. “But if he doesn’t, they’ve got plenty of other exceptional players in their attack like Bale, Benzema and Isco. They’re all players who work hard and possess incredible pace.” Bale, who joined Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur FC last summer, has been suffering from flu, but is expected to be fit for the game.
Neuer, meanwhile, is likely to return after missing the Matchday 31 victory over Braunschweig with a calf muscle injury. Centre-back Daniel van Buyten travelled to Madrid with the rest of the Bayern squad, but returned to Munich on Tuesday after his wife went into labour. Whoever takes to the field on Wednesday, however, captain Philipp Lahm is confident Bayern can give themselves a solid platform for next week’s return leg at the Allianz Arena. “We wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favours if we sat back and tried to keep a clean sheet,” he said. “We’re defending champions and we’re here to win the game.”
Real Madrid: Casillas - Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao - Modric, Xabi Alonso, di Maria - Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm, J. Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Javi Martinez - Robben, T. Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Ribery - T. Müller