If a misfiring warm-up encounter is any guide to a subsequent successful start to the serious action, then FC Bayern München look best prepared for their season re-opening trip to Hamburger SV.
A 2-1 defeat at Karlsruher SC in their one winter friendly served as a timely reminder that the record champions can take nothing for granted in their bid to see off outgoing coach Pep Guardiola with an unprecedented fourth straight Bundesliga title.
Despite their current eight-point cushion on closest pursuers Borussia Dortmund, complacency was in any case never on the Bayern agenda, even before the surprise loss to their Second Division hosts at the Wildparkstadion. "We can't beat about the bush, we're just not ready yet," said Jerome Boateng after the match, in which he was sent off for a professional foul. Guardiola offered a similar assessment, noting that, "We need a bit more time to get properly up to speed."
At Hamburg on Friday evening, Bayern's current state of readiness faces its first competitive test. Thus far, they have come up trumps almost without exception, one draw and one defeat being the only points left behind in an otherwise flawless opening campaign half. Remarkably, that single loss – 3-1 at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 15 – was the first the club have ever suffered in the Bundesliga before the winter break under Guardiola. For good measure, they are also still going strong in the DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League, both of which remain firmly in their sights once again in 2016.
Lahm focused on further glory
The San Siro Stadium in Milan (r.) is the venue for this year's final of Europe's elite club tournament and Bayern are determined to be there. Not least because victory in the Champions League would be the crowning glory of Guardiola's three-season tenure in charge. “Our aim is to play successful football. For us, that means winning three titles,” skipper Philipp Lahm succinctly summarised, while not forgetting to add, "we're well aware how difficult that's going to be."
Like the rest of his colleagues, Lahm will be sorry to see the coach head off in the summer, to take on a fresh challenge in the English Premier League. At the same time, he has a pragmatic take on the imminent changing of the guard: "We get on well and it's great fun playing for Guardiola. But I've been watching coaches and players come and go since I was six years old. You accept, and respect, these decisions."
'People are looking at us to win the Champions League'
Guardiola himself meanwhile feels that, "At this particular moment we're not quite ready to win the Champions League. For that, we need to take another step forward." Speaking at the end of Bayern's winter training camp in Doha, Qatar, the 45-year-old Catalan tactician cautioned, "We need to keep working on the details if we're to compete with the best sides in Europe. We're still prone to lapses in concentration, that's something we have to properly address." An analysis subsequently confirmed by the defeat in Karlsruhe.
Clearly not immune to the weight of expectation accompanying his final season in Munich, Guardiola acknowledged, "I know people are looking to us to win the Champions League. If we don't, we'll effectively have come up short." For the all-deciding run-in the coach will, at any rate, have a few key players back again from longer-term injuries. Bayern will need them all to take their best shot at giving Guardiola the appropriate send-off.