Gotze still important for Bayern – Guardiola

The former Borussia Dortmund wonderkid has seen injury restrict him to just seven league appearances this year, but his coach insists he remains a key part of the team

Mario Gotze remains an important player for Bayern Munich, according to Pep Guardiola.

Gotze has made just seven Bundesliga appearances this season, only returning to the first team set-up late last month after a hamstring injury sustained in October.

The 23-year-old has been linked with a move away from the Allianz Arena, with Liverpool and Juventus reportedly interested in his signature.

Gotze has been an unused substitute in Bayern’s last three fixtures and is not yet back to match fitness, but Guardiola feels he will have an influential role to play in the closing stages of the season.

“He needs more time, but he is getting better week after week. I have seven strikers,” said the Spaniard.

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“[He is] very professional. He thinks about football 24 hours a day. We have another three months [of the season to go].

“We need all the players so that we can achieve our goals. He was, and is, important.”

Bayern hold an eight-point lead over Borussia Dortmund – who they face on Saturday – at the Bundesliga summit, but Guardiola is solely focused on their encounter with Mainz on Wednesday.

“Everybody talks about Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund, but we are playing against Mainz. They are fifth in the league,” he added.

“Mainz have a great starting XI with many dynamic players and a really good goalkeeper.”

Dortmund coach Tuchel disputes Lahm claims

The Bayern defender has claimed the BVB cannot afford to drop points in a busy week, but the boss of the second-placed side says they are still in with a shout regardless

Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel has refuted claims from Philipp Lahm that the Bundesliga title race could be all over this weekend.

Dortmund host Bayern Munich on Saturday – after facing Darmstadt on Wednesday – and Lahm believes the Bavarians’ title defence will be all but complete if they can stretch their advantage at the top to 11 points over the coming days.

But Tuchel says back-to-back victories for his side would inject new life into the chase for the Bundesliga crown.

“If we win both games, there is no early conclusion,” he told reporters.

“I understand the statement by Philipp Lahm – Bayern are used to these situations.

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“Given that they even commented that they want such an early conclusion, it is even more important for us to sharpen our focus for tomorrow.

“It is in our hands, on Saturday, to delay the conclusion further.”

Dortmund sit eight points adrift of Bayern and 15 clear of third-placed Hertha Berlin.

Ex-Bayern president Hoeness released from jail

The Bavarians’ former president woke up a free man on Monday after being released halfway through his prison sentence for tax evasion

Former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness was released from prison on parole on Monday midway through a three-and-a-half-year sentence for tax evasion, the Bavarian Ministry of Justice has confirmed.

Hoeness was released the night before the scheduled February 29 date to spare the 64-year-old the attention of the media.

The 1974 World Cup-winner was convicted in March 2014 and sent to prison the following June having evaded €28.5million in taxes – a figure finally acknowledged by his legal team after Hoeness was initially charged with attempting to evade €3.5m.

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It remains to be seen if he will return to Bayern and, if so, in what capacity.

Having made over 300 appearances as a player for the club, he served as sporting director for 30 years before assuming the role of president in 2009.

He has worked in Bayern’s youth department since early 2015 on day release.

Van Gaal: Rashford is a special talent like Kluivert, Xavi & Muller

The Dutch coach has been impressed by the 18-year-old’s remarkable start to his Manchester United career, though it is not the first time he has seen a young talent blossom

Louis van Gaal has hailed Manchester United’s two-goal hero Marcus Rashford, putting the teenager’s impact on a par with the likes of Patrick Kluivert and Thomas Muller.

The Dutch coach has put his faith in youngsters throughout his long career, notably with his Champions League-winning Ajax team, and named a hugely inexperienced side to face Arsenal on Sunday.

Fresh from his midweek heroics in the Europa League, Rashford capped his Premier League debut with a brace in a 3-2 victory against the Gunners, later setting up Ander Herrera’s winner.

And Van Gaal is already seeing similarities between United’s 18-year-old sensation and several youngsters who developed into superstars under his guidance at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

“I can imagine a lot – you want to hear? I don’t think so!” joked Van Gaal when asked by the BBC if he could recall any youngsters making such an explosive impact as Rashford.

“But Kluivert makes the winning goal in the Super Cup in Netherlands. Xavi made a fantastic goal, it was Barcelona against I think Valladolid. And then also a fantastic debut was Muller, and he scores a lot of goals as you know in Bayern Munich, and he was playing in the second team.”

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As well as Rashford, fellow teenager Timothy Fosu-Mensah was also given a run out against Arsenal – becoming the 20th United youth product to feature in the matchday squad this term.

Van Gaal says he has no hesitation in leaning on the younger members of his squad, despite taking on one of the favourites for the Premier League title, and was not taken back by how well Rashford in particular slotted into the team.

“No, I’m not surprised,” he explained. “That’s why we have a small selection, so we can give young players a chance.

“If you have a wide selection you cannot give these youngsters a chance. I have done that in all my clubs and you can see that. In my experience, the youngsters are always playing the first match very good, the second match is different. But Marcus also did the second match so he’s a special talent I think.”

Hitzfeld: Bundesliga is missing jailed Hoeness

The former West Germany international is set to be released from prison on Monday after serving time for tax evasion, and could return to the Bavarian club

Former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld wants to see ex-president Uli Hoeness get back involved at the Allianz Arena once he leaves jail.

Hoeness was sentenced to three and a half years in jail in March 2014 after being found guilty on seven counts of tax evasion in which he defrauded authorities of a total of €27.2million.

However, the former West Germany international and long-serving Bayern board member is to be released halfway through his sentence on Monday after it was deemed he had little chance of reoffending.

The 64-year-old served as coach and later commercial manager for Bayern before assuming the presidency in 2009, but resigned shortly after being found guilty.

Hoeness has helped with the club’s youth setup since being granted day release last year and is set to confirm his long-term plans in July.

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“I am eager to see how it will turn out,” Hitzfeld told Omnisport. “Whether he will be more active with the club, whether he will stay with the youth squad or if he returns to the club offices.

“I don’t think he has decided yet. He wants to return to his home and think about it. He might then consult his colleagues about which future might be best for him. I would like to see him taking responsibility again.

“The Bundesliga is missing a guy like Uli Hoeness. He was always upfront with controversial statements, but he did a great job for Bayern Munich. He is responsible for their success and it would be nice to see him return.

“Uli Hoeness has been through a difficult time and it is normal that this affects his mood. But now that he can return home and to the offices it is ideal. That’s how you return to your old self.”

Former Switzerland coach Hitzfeld won five Bundesliga titles as well as the Champions League over two spells in Bavaria.