Munich - His German may still be a bit rusty, but Pep Guardiola's message was clear and, perhaps worryingly for the rest of the Bundesliga, the Catalan head coach was unerring in his belief that FC Bayern München can improve in his second season.
Praise for Lahm and Alaba
Speaking at his first press conference ahead of the 2014/15 campaign, Guardiola, who clinched a domestic double and FIFA World Club Cup glory in his first season with the record titleholders, highlighted the importance of lessons learned last year. “I'm far less nervous this time round. I'm much more used to the customs here, and of course I know the players better and the Bundesliga as a whole.”
Widely regarded as one of the forward-thinking tactical masterminds of the modern game, the Spaniard offered a rare insight into his thought process for the Münchner's first title defence of his tenure. Insisting Bayern would not need a like-for-like replacement for Toni Kroos, Guardiola once again underlined Philipp Lahm's importance to Bayern's progress.
“To me he’s now a midfielder,” Guardiola said of Lahm. "We want very intelligent players especially in midfield, and that’s a characteristic that certainly applies to him. He makes very few mistakes.” However, it appears that, in light of left-back Juan Bernat arriving from Valencia CF, David Alaba could follow in his captain's footsteps by slotting into midfield, as he has done in both of the Bavarians' pre-season friendlies thus far. “He’s a real blessing for Bayern. He can play anywhere on the pitch.”
Ribery to return
Unwilling to rock the boat in his first campaign with a treble-winning squad, Guardiola, at times criticised for his lack of a 'Plan B' last season, shocked many when he switched to a three-man as opposed to four-man back line for the DFB Cup win over Borussia Dortmund.
However, with the Spaniard keen to use pre-season to experiment with his side, the alternative approach is being given strong consideration. “We can play either system, and he have the right players in Dante, Jerome Boateng, [Javi] Martinez as well as Alaba and [Holger] Badstuber.”
On the personnel front, French wing wizard Franck Ribery is expected to return in time to feature in the Telekom Cup, which pits the Reds against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the semi-finals. "Franck has found his rhythm," claimed Guardiola. "He's completed two or three training sessions. I think he'll definitely get a few minutes under his belt."
'Supercup against Dortmund very important’
With FC Bayern boasting six of Germany's World Cup winning side amongst their ranks, Guardiola was reminded of the record titleholders inability to defend their domestic crown following the Nationalmannschaft's triumphs in 1974 and 1990, but has no fears that fate will repeat itself. “This title is very important to the players. They will be more satisfied with their careers. And there’s no doubt that this title is also good for both Germany and the Bundesliga too.”
Though there's still the small matter of a nine-day US Tour to follow this weekend's Telekom Cup in Hamburg, the 2014/15 DFL Supercup on 13 August is not far from the former FC Barcelona boss' thoughts. “The Supercup against Dortmund will be a very important game, we must be aware of them. We may have won the last two league titles, but they clinched the previous two. Our great challenge [for the new season] is to keep up our level to keep them on distance.”
Felix Seaman-Höschele reporting from Säbener Straße