Munich - Their middle eastern travels over, FC Bayern München are now back to the grindstone of daily training at their Säbener Straße complex, already preparing for their next mid-season friendly against FC Salzburg on Saturday.
'A good test'
One player particularly looking forward to the match is Bayern's Austrian sensation , for whom the game will be a welcome trip back to his not-so-distant homeland. "It's going to be a highlight for everyone," said the 21-year-old.
After a 16-day rest following in the FIFA Club World Cup in December, the Reds have been to Qatar and back, via Kuwait, to begin their preparations for the second half of the season and, more immediately, the Bundesliga restart next Friday evening. So far, they have played friendlies against Al-Erich SC (won 2-0) and Kuwait Sporting Club (won 8-0), but the upcoming test against Salzburg will be their toughest yet during mid-season.
The Austrian outfit lead their domestic league by 11 points after 20 matches and topped their UEFA Europa League group with six wins from six. Bayern will, therefore, be facing a team sky-high on confidence, with Alaba, who began his career with FK Austria Wien, acknowledging that “it will be a special game in front of a packed-out crowd”, but also ideal for the purpose of getting the players back to full match fitness. “Salzburg are having a great season, not just in the league but also in Europe. It will be a very good test for us,” believes Austria's current sportsman of the year.
Top of the shots
Alaba, along with Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, were all recently named in UEFA.com users’ Team of the Year for 2013, but although the Vienna-born defender scored his fair share of goals in the last 12 months, he didn’t quite make it on to German broadcaster ARD's goal of the year shortlist.
Robben’s winner against Borussia Dortmund in last season’s DFB Cup quarter-final has been nominated, as have Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cheeky flick at Eintracht Frankfurt that won Bayern the 2012/13 Bundesliga title and Franck Ribery’s thunderous volley at Mönchengladbach on the final day of last season.
And in what could bring yet more individual honours for their already decorated squad, three Bayern players are also on the list of names in contention to win the Golden Foot Award, an annual prize rewarding a footballer's performance as well as personality.
Contestants must be at least 28 years of age and still playing, and Neuer (28 in March), Robben (29) and Ribery (30) are the Reds’ candidates. The winner of the award leaves a permanent mould of his footprints on 'The Champions Promenade', on the seafront of the Principality of Monaco. It seems there is no limit to what Bayern can achieve at present, a fact they'll be keen to reinforce before attention turns to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Hear the thoughts of Robben and Co ahead of the league's restart here, courtesy of the official YouTube channel: