Guardiola ignoring Man United clash

The Spaniard is hoping his side take their Bundesliga game with Hoffenheim seriously, despite their upcoming Champions League quarter-final

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola says he has put all thoughts of his side’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Manchester United to the back of his mind.

The Bavarians wrapped up the Bundesliga title with victory over Hertha Berlin on Tuesday and face Hoffenheim on Saturday before their trip to Old Trafford three days later.

However, the Spaniard is insistent that his players must focus on their latest league clash and wants them to perfect their game against Markus Gisdol’s men.

“We want to keep going. I don’t think it’s necessary to say that to the players,” he told a press conference.

“We need to play as much as possible to prepare for the quarter-final in Manchester. I don’t want the players to think about the Champions League.

“In every game we can improve the small details.”

Meanwhile, Guardiola confirmed that back-up keeper Tom Starke would line up against his former club after impressing in training.

“He deserves it. He continues to train well, is a super guy and always supports the team.”

Bayern and Hoffenheim kick off at 15:30CET on Saturday.

Mediocre Bundesliga rivals deliver title to Bayern on silver platter

The Bavarians are a brilliant team but the attitude of their rivals leaves a lot to be desired, while Barcelona face up to life without one of their most important players

COLUMN
By Peter Staunton

Too many teams in the Bundesliga are satisfied with mediocrity. It suits the rest of the field to paint Bayern Munich as some sort of super-team, incapable of being caught. To do anything about Bayern running away with the league with seven games to go would be too much like hard work.

Bayern have been dominant plenty of times before. They have won the Bundesliga about once every second season since its inception. German football has traditionally been about Bayern versus someone else; Borussia Monchengladbach, Hamburg, Borussia Dortmund. This rampaging supremacy is not new.

But the surrendering is. It’s inappropriate for opposition coaches to give up and say they are too good. “We see you, but actually we need a telescope,” Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp told German media after the insipid 0-0 against Schalke midweek.

There is now a culture of acceptance about the Bundesliga. Bayern are too good so let’s not bother even trying. Yes, Bayern are good. But they are not supermen. They are playing highly-effective football and playing it diligently. Is what they are doing really that far beyond the reach of other teams?

By ascribing this invincibility to Bayern, clubs in the Bundesliga have absolved themselves of the responsibility of actually doing anything about it. Yes, the Bundesliga is easy for Bayern. But Bayern are not the ones who have made it easy. They have been handed their mandate to rule through the attitude of defeatism on the part of their so-called rivals. That is why they are dominant.

Considering all four German teams emerged from the Champions League group stage, what’s holding them back from competing domestically or making waves in Europe? There is a great untapped potential within the Bundesliga. There are clubs on top of potential goldmines. But at the sharp end the teams continue to pick the wrong men to lead. Inept, inexperienced, incapable coaches. All except Bayern. Their last three coaching appointments have been men of pedigree, Champions League winners.

Jens Keller’s rudimentary tactical failings have left Schalke punching below their weight. His players are better than their recent humiliations against Bayern and Real Madrid suggested. Real are good but not 9-2 good as Sevilla showed recently.

Sami Hyypia is learning on the job at Bayer Leverkusen. They are a Champions League team with a novice at the helm and have been treated as such by Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.

What are Wolfsburg hoping to achieve appointing Dieter Hecking to coach an ambitious and talented group of players? He’s kicked around the Bundesliga for years with no great impact.

Lucien Favre was the man to steady the ship at Borussia Monchengladbach but has repeatedly failed to make an impact in Europe with them.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola aside, these are the coaches at the top teams. None of them are in demand. None of them proven, title-winning coaches.

Beneath the huddle of top teams, Markus Weinzierl at Augsburg and Thomas Tuchel at Mainz are evidence of clubs doing things the right way. They are, in a sense, serving coaching apprenticeships at clubs which suit them perfectly. The clubs and coaches will serve each other well until one outgrows the other. Those two are going places and to have put them in charge of bigger teams before their time would have been damaging.

It’s at the clubs of a higher footing where the relative novices need to be dispensed with. The Bundesliga has an admirable player development record and a sensible transfer policy for the most part but it falls down in finding the right coaches for its clubs at the top end. It is commendable that indigenous coaches are given the opportunity to work straight away at clubs in the league but look at, say, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez. They have earned their way into those jobs at Liverpool and Everton.

What is the barometer of success? Hanging on Bayern’s coattails, hoping to finish at most three places behind them and emerging from the group stages in Europe? Because if it is, that is cowardly. It’s one thing running clubs like businesses but on a sporting level the bar must be set higher.

The German league has made great strides in recent seasons. There is a lot of virtues to extol and a lot to be proud of. But let’s not have a one team league and pretend it couldn’t be any different.

Barca are not Barca without Valdes

If Diego Simeone could hand-pick one Barcelona player to sit out their three upcoming clashes – two in the Champions League and one all-or-nothing showdown in la Liga – it’s fair to say it would be Lionel Messi. If he were to pick another, however, it would be no surprise if he opted for Victor Valdes. Due to the unfortunate knee ligament injury he suffered in midweek against Celta, that is about to transpire.

As much as Gerardo Martino relies on Messi at one end, he is as reliant on Valdes at the other. Messi the false nine; Valdes the false No.1. No other goalkeeper in the world could play as effectively in the Barcelona goal as Valdes and life without him for the next two months will be difficult to endure.

Playing in goal for Barca is a thankless task. Most of the time, Barcelona have the ball and so many reckon they could probably stand in the goalmouth themselves clearing the odd ball from harm. To think so is to fundamentally misunderstand what Valdes has become over the course of his career.

It is said that the father of Total Football, Rinus Michels, in the 1970s toyed with the idea of putting an outfield player in goal in order to better control possession. Well Pep Guardiola achieved almost just that in his utilisation of Valdes.

He is a passer first, a shot-stopper second. Barcelona go back to him to instigate passages of possession and he boasts equatable ball control and passing range to many outfield players. Replacing him on a permanent basis is one thing – Barcelona are preparing the ground for that and will work out a system between now and the start of next season to insure against his loss.

In the short-term, though, they are in big trouble. When Messi was injured, Neymar deputised capably. Jose Pinto is a decent goalkeeper but he needs to be much more than that to stand between the sticks for Barcelona.

Victor Valdes is irreplaceable and Barcelona will struggle to meet their season expectations without him.

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Bayern Munich-Hoffenheim Preview: Visitors look to spoil Bundesliga party

Hoffenheim will hope to take gatecrash Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga party on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola’s men completed their title defence on Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Hertha Berlin as goals from Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Franck Ribery saw them over the line in record time.

Bayern wrapped up a 24th league championship with seven games to spare and will now attempt to avoid defeat in the run-in to become the first side in Bundesliga history to enjoy an unbeaten campaign.

The Bavarians need 14 points to match the division’s record points total, which they set last season, and will be strong favourites to add to their tally this weekend as they go in search of a 20th straight win.

Hoffenheim would appear to have little left to play for. Back-to-back wins – the latest coming against Hannover in midweek – have countered two previous losses and given them a lift, but their outside hopes of a top-six finish still look to have faded.

And if they are to register an unlikely victory against Guardiola’s men they will likely need a superhuman defensive effort, having shipped 15 goals in their last six games – keeping just one clean sheet in the league this term.

Bayern, meanwhile, are one goal away from 80 in the top flight this season and are close to setting a new record for the fewest conceded in a Bundesliga campaign. 

The current record, set by FCB, stands at 18, with Manuel Neuer and back-up Tom Starke – with a single appearance against Hannover in February – conceding just 13 this term.

Neuer is also five clean sheets away from matching last season’s record of 21, again set by the champions.

Klopp hits out at Uefa over Nations League

The 46-year-old trainer feels that replacing friendly fixtures with competitive matches is only going to place an even greater strain on Europe’s top footballers

Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp is upset that Uefa did not consult any coaches or players over its new ‘League of Nations’ tournament.

The competition, which will see Europe’s sides divided up into four divisions, has been created with the intention of replacing the majority of friendly fixtures with meaningful matches.

However, Klopp feels that the competitive nature of the games will only place greater physical demands on players.

“I think the decision would be have been different if the guys who made the decision [Uefa] would also have to play [the games],” the 46-year-old stated.

“We were not asked and it would have been nice if they’d included players and coaches [in the decision-making process].”

However, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge says that the new tournament has their support.

“We are not against the Nations Cup,” the former West Germany international told reporters.

“We understand that especially for the small and medium-sized national associations, friendly matches no longer sell [tickets].

“I’m not worried about the effect on the Champions League. It is the pinnacle of club football.

“A pleasant side side-effect of this idea is that our national team will no longer have to travel around the world for friendlies.”

The ‘League of Nations’ is scheduled to get under way in September 2018 and will provide four qualifiers for Euro 2020.

'Bayern have secured a golden future' – Heynckes

The former Bavarians boss believes the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions will be untouchable in the coming years, while Ottmar Hitzfeld thinks the league has been damaged

Former Bayern Munich head coach Jupp Heynckes thinks the club have secured “a golden future” and will dominate German football for years to come.

Bayern claimed an historic treble last season under Heynckes before he was replaced by Pep Guardiola, who has gone on to seal the Bundesliga title in record time, with Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Hertha Berlin securing their crown.

Heynckes believes the Bavarians have moved well beyond the reach of their nearest domestic counterparts and will prove untouchable for some time under the “excellent” Guardiola.

“They have the best squad in Europe, so also the world,” he told Kicker.

“I cannot see competition far and wide in the Bundesliga. They have secured a golden future.

“[After 2012] we went in new directions and pledged to absolute top performers: Dante, [Mario] Mandzukic, [Javi] Martinez, [Claudio] Pizarro, [Xherdan] Shaqiri and [Tom] Starke. Two outstanding footballers were then added in [Mario] Gotze and Thiago, and an excellent coach like Guardiola.”

Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, who coached Bayern in two spells in the late 1990s and the 2007-08 season, believes the current Bayern squad is the strongest ever – but admits the Bundesliga has now lost some of its appeal as a competition.

“Munich has pretty much always occupied the top spots with 11, 12 top players, but never 17 or 18,” he said.

“The distance between the giants and the rest of the league is too big. The Bundesliga is losing some of its charm.”