Bayern have been poor in the Bundesliga at times – Guardiola

The coach says his side need to improve their first-half performance against Viktoria Plzen and praised Mario Gotze’s efforts since recovering fitness

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola has called for his players to improve their form in the first 45 minutes, starting on Wednesday against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

Bayern have two wins out of two in Group D, beating CSKA Moscow 3-0 in their opening game before turning Manchester City over at the Etihad Stadium in a 3-1 triumph.

The Bavarians can surge to nine points with a win over the Czech Republic side, though the Spaniard expects stiff opposition at the Allianz Arena.

“I have a lot of respect for our opponents,” Guardiola, 42, told reporters on Tuesday. “I saw them against Manchester City and they performed very well in the first half.

“They have some excellent players and play nice football. The team have changed a bit since I was at Barcelona [who faced Plzen in 2011-12] but their philosophy remains the same.

“In the Bundesliga recently, we have been poor in the first half but I don’t expect this to happen tomorrow.”

Mario Gotze stole the limelight for the first time as a Bayern player in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Mainz after coming off the bench to inspire a turnaround.

And Guardiola is pleased with his efforts since recovering fitness, while praising skipper Philipp Lahm’s spell in midfield.

“I need all my players because everyone in the squad is important,” the ex-Barcelona boss added. “Gotze is one of those players who thinks quickly on the pitch and I’ve been impressed with him since coming back from injury.

“Playing Lahm in midfield was an experiment and he did extremely well. I know he is a full-back and he will resume that position, but don’t forget about Rafinha.”

Mandanda admits interest in Barcelona move

The Blaugrana will be looking for a new No.1 when Victor Valdes leaves Camp Nou at the end of the season and the France international is open to filling the void

Olympique de Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda has expressed his interest in joining Barcelona.

Current Blaugrana No.1 Victor Valdes has already confirmed his intention to quit Camp Nou when his contract with the Catalans expires at the end of the season.

The Liga champions have not yet been linked with Mandanda but the France international has confessed that if Barca did come calling, he would find it difficult to say no.

“If a place becomes available in Barcelona, that’s very good,” he told L’Equipe.

“The player that says he does not want to go to Barcelona, I think he’s lying a little … Well, a lot, actually!

“After that, there are agents involved, and the president also, so making predictions [about what might happen] is difficult.”

Mandanda was heavily linked with Monaco during the summer but the 28-year-old insisted that his head wasn’t turned by all the transfer speculation, explaining he was more than happy to stay at the Stade Velodrome.

“It’s been quite a few years I’ve been at l’OM for quite a few years,” he mused. “There was an interesting challenge [put forward by Monaco]. But I stayed and I had no reason to be unmotivated.

“I am, first and foremost, a competitor, a great professional. I also know that I have a debt to l’OM, who picked me up in Le Havre while I was only the second goalie.

“Here, I feel important, appreciated by everyone. The fans have always been behind me. I want to justify the confidence of an entire club in me.”

“I am not envious, sincerely. I am here. During pre-season training, I had a discussion with the coach.

“It lasted 30 seconds. I told him, ‘I’m staying, I am completely here!”

Mandanda added that while he has the utmost confidence in himself, he knows that there are better goalkeepers out there at the moment.

“I’m not the best,” he stated. “The best is Manuel Neuer; he is very complete, very consistent.

“After him, there solid players such as [Gianluigi] Buffon. [Petr] Cech is having a special season.

“Young people like [Thibaut] Courtois and [Simon] Mignolet have also arrived. To place them in relation to me is tricky.”

Guardiola exactly what Bayern needed, says Ballack

The Germany legend feels appointing the former Barcelona coach as the new man in charge at the Allianz Arena was the right call

Michael Ballack believes that Pep Guardiola was just the right man for Bayern Munich after their successful 2012-13 campaign.

The former Barcelona coach had big boots to fill after Jupp Heynckes guided the Bavarians to a historic treble last term, but Ballack feels the 42-year-old is the perfect man for the job.

“It’s always hard to set new goals after you win the Champions League. What are your ambitions for the following season…,” Ballack told Sky Sport News.

“The change of coach was exactly what Bayern needed. Fresh challenges have arrived with Guardiola. He is absolutely world-class. He knows exactly what the players need in every situation.

“The Champions League game against Manchester City showed that this team still has plenty to offer. That was extraordinary.”

Bayern have been in impressive form in the opening months of the season and sit atop of the Bundesliga table, while they also lead their Champions League group.

The best coach in the world? How Simeone’s first 100 games at Atletico compares to Guardiola & Mourinho

The Argentine was not too down after last weekend’s loss at Espanyol, which is unsurprising given he’s overseen a remarkable transformation in the Rojiblancos’ fortunes since 2011

COMMENT
By Daniel Caballero

Given the number of elite coaches currently plying their trade in Europe, trying to decide upon the pick of the bench is nigh on impossible. What is undeniable, though, is that Diego Simeone now warrants comparison with such coaching luminaries as Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

Of course, in any conversation about the continent’s finest trainers, it would be remiss of us not to mention Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal boss may have gone eight years without silverware (though that wait could clearly end this season, with the Gunners currently riding high at the top of the Premier League) but his name remains synonymous with good football and coaching excellence.

Simeone is a relative rookie compared to Wenger but his lack of experience has hardly hindered his remarkable transformation of Atletico Madrid since his return to the Spanish capital in December 2011. Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Espanyol may have been a disappointing way in which to mark his 100th game in charge of the Rojiblancos but there have already been countless highlights during the Argentine’s short stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Guardiola, of course, won a treble in his first season in charge of Barcelona as he set about moulding a side that some argued was the finest of all time. But then, it was Mourinho who managed to break the Blaugrana‘s stranglehold on La Liga, in 2012. The Portuguese has won domestic titles in four countries, not to mention two Champions Leagues with two different clubs, Porto and Inter. Still, few would bet against Guardiola leading new club Bayern Munich to European glory this season.

              Riding high | Atletico have become a force to be reckoned with under Simeone

Wenger, of course, has never lifted the club game’s premier prize. However, he is responsible for creating ‘The Invincibles’, who went through the 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten – not to mention playing the most sublime attacking football. That latter point is particularly noteworthy, given Arsenal were renowned for their defensive tactics before the Frenchman’s arrival in north London in 1996. He brought both flair and success to Arsenal.

Simeone has done likewise at the Vicente Calderon, and just as quickly. The former Rojiblancos midfielder took over a club in complete disarray under two years ago. Since then, he has led Atletico to three trophies: the Europa League, a Copa del Rey and a Uefa Super Cup, as well as establishing the club as a credible Liga title rival to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

In total, he has won 64 of his 100 games as Atletico boss. That is an impressive statistic. However, perhaps Simeone’s finest achievement is that he has completely changed Atletico’s mentality. As their successive victories at the Santiago Bernabeu have proven, they no longer have an inferiority complex when it comes to facing city rivals Madrid.

Consequently, the sky is the limit for not only Atletico, but Simeone. He might not be on the same level as Wenger, Mourinho and Guardiola just yet. But after just 100 games with Atletico, he’s clearly getting there. And fast.

Bayern Munich-Viktoria Plzen Preview: Robben hoping to equal goalscoring record against Czechs

Arjen Robben can equal a goalscoring record in Bayern Munich’s Champions League clash against Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday.

The Dutchman has netted in his club’s last five games in the competition, a streak that includes the 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund in the 2012-13 final at Wembley in May.

Only three players in the history of Europe’s premier club competition have scored in six successive fixtures and Robben will aim to join Marouane Chamakh, Burak Yilmaz and Cristiano Ronaldo in achieving the feat.

The reigning champions will enter their Group D home game against the Czechs as heavy favourites after their superb start to the season.

Bayern top the Bundesliga with seven victories from nine matches and have easily won both of their Champions League fixtures, proving particularly impressive in a 3-1 win at Manchester City earlier this month.

The Bavarian giants have scored in their last 31 games and survived a scare to defeat Mainz 4-1 on Saturday.

Bayern’s 33-match unbeaten streak in the Bundesliga came under threat when Shawn Parker’s goal helped Mainz to the lead at the break.

However, Mario Gotze came on at half-time and helped to change the match, as two goals from Thomas Muller and additional strikes from Robben and Mario Mandzukic carried Pep Guardiola’s side to victory.

Winger Franck Ribery was rested as a precaution, but the Frenchman is likely to be fit for Wednesday’s clash.

“It’s nothing serious. I wanted to play, but the doctor said it was too much of a risk,” the winger said.

Brazil defender Dante was substituted in the win over Mainz with an ankle injury and will be out at least a fortnight. Thiago Alcantara also has an ankle problem and is unavailable together with fellow midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring).

Defender Jerome Boateng is suspended following his red card in Manchester and although midfielder Javi Martinez has returned to training following groin surgery, Wednesday’s match will come too soon for him.

Viktoria Plzen sit second in the Czech top flight, six points behind Sparta Prague but undefeated in their 11 league matches this season.

Plzen have lost each of their Champions League fixtures, succumbing to a 3-0 home defeat against Manchester City before CSKA Moscow beat them 3-2 earlier this month.

Centre-back Marian Cisovsky missed both of those defeats due to a calf injury but returned in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Sparta Prague.

Cisovsky was the equal top-scorer in Champions League qualification, netting five goals.

David Limbersky, another member of Plzen’s defence, has not played in almost a month due to a thigh injury and is set to miss out again.