Munich - There was a moment just after the hour mark had passed in FC Bayern München’s game at home to VfB Stuttgart on Saturday when the north stand of the Bavarians’ Allianz Arena erupted into a cauldron of deafening cheers and applause.
Guardiola: ‘We need Franck’
It was not because a goal had been scored - the match was poised at 1-0 for the hosts at that point - but because had stripped off his tracksuit and jogged to the byline to begin his warm-up ahead of what would be his first competitive appearance for Bayern since the DFB Cup final against Borussia Dortmund on 17 May.
And after the Frenchman’s 22-minute outing against the Swabians, in which he scored the second goal of the game in the 85th minute, it was not just the club’s supporters who were appreciative of the winger’s return: his coach and team-mates alike were also delighted, especially given the number of injuries the record titleholders have going into a congested fixture schedule.
“We need Frank,” said Pep Guardiola. “I know how important he is for us.” , who put Bayern 1-0 up in the first half, commented that “everyone in the team was pleased [he’s back]. We’re happy that he’s fit again and is able to play. It’ll do us good.” If Ribery’s cameo against Stuttgart is anything to go by, that certainly looks to be the case: the 31-year-old completed 94 per cent of his passes, covered 3.3 kilometres, had 23 touches of the ball and very nearly scored a second goal too.
Ribery: ‘I need to find my rhythm’
“It’s always nice to be back on the pitch,” said the man himself, now sporting a new-look tufty beard. “I had to wait a long time and now I’m happy to be back with the team. I only played a few minutes but it was very important for me. I’m not at 100 per cent yet. I’ve been working hard but training and matches are very different things. Now I need to find my rhythm again.”
With five matches over the course of 14 days coming up, Ribery will have plenty of opportunity to do just that, starting with Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match at home to Manchester City. And Guardiola is hoping his winger will be able to inject some much-needed thrust in the final third against the English champions.
Manchester City await
“[Against Stuttgart] we had problems with our final ball and with our crosses,” said the Catalan coach. “Our final pass, final cross and final control was bad. I like possession football but in the last ten to 15 metres we need talent, and when Franck’s fit we need him to make the next step. We had a lot of possession in their half but we need a player for the one-on-one situations. He’s the kind of player that can make a difference.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Ribery is ready to start midweek, or whether Guardiola will unleash him on a tiring opposition defence in the second half. What seems certain, however, is that Ribery will play some part in the tie. “We’ll need a very good and compact team performance on Wednesday,” said team-mate after Saturday’s match. “There’s no doubt Franck will be able to help us with that.”
Jonathan Stockitt reporting from the Allianz Arena