The games are coming thick and fast for Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München, with Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg against SL Benfica the next test for the men in red, who are still alive in three competitions.
Pep Guardiola’s men go into the game on the back of a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt that maintained a five-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table. Nevertheless, the champions were by no means at their best at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, and Guardiola opted to sound a note of caution ahead of the visit of the Águias.
“If we approach the game with the mindset of how many goals we’ll score, then we’d be making a mistake,” said the 43-year-old, admitting that his players had had half an eye on the Champions League tie. “Sometimes it’s difficult to play a game when you’re already thinking about the next game.”
To ensure complacency is not an issue, Guardiola and his players need only cast their minds back to twelve months ago, when they almost succumbed to a shock defeat against Benfica's domestic rivals FC Porto in the last eight. A 6-1 thrashing in the home leg meant they stormed into the semi-finals, but awkward questions were asked of the Reds – and Guardiola – following the 3-1 first-leg loss in Portugal.
Experience the key
A smoother passage into the last four is the objective this time around, and captain Philipp Lahm is confident that the players will give Benfica the respect they deserve. “This team is experienced enough and have been through a lot in the Champions League. So from that point of view, I don’t think any of us will be taking the game lightly.”
Few would deny that Guardiola’s side are favourites to beat the Portuguese champions over two legs, particularly after the barnstorming 4-2 extra time win over Juventus in the last 16. Additionally, the omens are promising for Bayern, as they have won all three of their knockout ties against the Eagles, before going on to reach the final of the competition each time.
As Guardiola reminded his players, however, beating a side with 19 wins in their last 20 league matches is by no means a foregone conclusion. “I’m really impressed by Benfica,” said the Catalan. “They’re superbly organised, very compact and give you very little space between the lines.”
Arjen Robben’s injury-enforced absence is a blow for the Bavarians, but Guardiola still has an array of attacking weapons at his disposal, with Douglas Costa and Franck Ribery – the match-winner against Frankfurt – chomping at the bit and Kingsley Coman expected to shake off a muscle problem.
There is, in other words, sufficient firepower to carry them past Benfica and potentially all the way to the final on 28 May, provided they play to the peak of their powers. “We obviously need an improved performance on Tuesday [from the Frankfurt game],” says Lahm, “but I have no doubt we’ll deliver.”