Munich - Pep Guardiola has always maintained that every Bundesliga game into which he leads his FC Bayern München team is a difficult one. Ahead of this Friday’s Rückrunde opener against Borussia Mönchengladbach (kick-off 20.30 CET), however, it seemed he really meant it.
Neutrals for Gladbach?
“We saw the first time we played them that Borussia are a tough team,” said the Spanish tactician in his pre-match press conference, reflecting on his very first Bundesliga match in charge of the Reds, a 3-1 victory over the Foals back in August. “It was quite an awakening in the Bundesliga for me. I’m certain we’ll lose a game sooner or later; it could even be this one.”
It may be the case that most observers will be hoping for a Bayern defeat. Unbeaten in a record 41 league games since October 2012, the Reds have a seven-point lead at the top of the table and could stretch that to ten with victory in their rearranged game with VfB Stuttgart next week. While admitting that “it would be a very tough match”, one which Bayern would lose if they played anything like the performance delivered in last week’s 3-0 friendly defeat to FC Salzburg, Guardiola was confident his “players are ready for it”.
Exactly which players he will indeed be able to use, however, is still up in the air. Arjen Robben "should play some part”, but Franck Ribery is a doubt and Bastian Schweinsteiger is definitely out, the 42-year-old admitted. “It’s tough because we need ‘Basti’, as does the German national team. We want him back, but it’s important that he gets fit again first.” Potentially deprived of European Footballer of the Year Ribery and with only a half-fit Robben the trip to Borussia Park - where the Foals are unbeaten this season - could be a daunting one, even if opposite number Lucien Favre maintains that “Bayern can do everything; they’re dangerous in every single aspect of the game.”
Embracing the challenge
Such are the tests that Guardiola thrives on, though. “I like playing big opponents and I like the fact that Borussia are a team that keep the ball well,” he said of Favre’s team. “They have a player of unbelievable quality in Max Kruse and one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Marc-Andre ter Stegen.” The Santpedor native drew exactly those conclusions from the side’s first meeting on Matchday 1, and six months into his new job, is hoping what he has learned will stand the team in good stead this weekend.
“It’s going well and I’m very happy to be here. Of course there are things I can improve, such as my German. I can explain things to the players, but it’s also about getting that message into their hearts and minds.” His predecessor Jupp Heynckes excelled in that respect, and his final trip to Mönchengladbach was a thrilling 4-3 victory. Guardiola will no doubt be hoping for something similar.
Mönchengladbach: ter Stegen - Korb, Stranzl, Dominguez, Wendt - Arango, Nordtveit, Xhaka, Herrmann - Raffael, Kruse
Bayern: Neuer - Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Lahm - Müller, Thiago, Martinez, Götze - Mandzukic
Check out what outcome the EA Sports FIFA 14 predictor had for tonight's Matchday 18 opener, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: