UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Bayern Munich’s coach Pep Guardiola knows he needs to prove his critics wrong by overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in tonight’s in crunch home Champions League semifinal.
Guardiola and Bayern are bidding to avoid losing a semifinal to a Spanish side for the third year running having lost the first-leg last Wednesday at Atletico after Saul Niguez’s early solo strike.
Having won 14 titles in four years at Barcelona and six titles so far in three years with Bayern, Guardiola hopes to sign off in charge of Munich by lifting the Champions League trophy at the final on May 28 in Milan.
Bayern have exited the Champions League semifinals for the last two years running with defeats to Real Madrid in 2014, then to Barcelona last year.
Another exit at the hands of Spanish opposition will not go down well in Bavaria, especially in the wake of Guardiola’s decision to start the first leg in Madrid with Germany star Thomas Mueller, Bayern’s top scorer in Europe this season, on the bench.
The decision drew plenty of criticism from the German media and, by his own admission, the Munich leg is Guardiola’s “final bullet” in the battle to prove any critics wrong before he leaves to coach Manchester City next season.
“I have read in a German newspaper that my work in Munich will only be valued, and the job considered done, if I win the Champions League. That’s how it’ll be seen,” Guardiola told reporters after Bayern saw off Benfica in the quarterfinals.
Bayern have been unstoppable at home in Europe this season, winning all five games at the Allianz Arena, but needed extra time to come back from 2-0 down to beat Juventus 4-2 at home in the second leg of the last 16.
They have won all 11 home games in Europe since being hammered 4-0 in the Munich leg by Real Madrid in the 2014 semifinals, having lost 1-0 in Spain.
But, as they demonstrated in Saturday’s 1-1 Bundesliga draw at home to Borussia Moechengladbach, they are simply not currently playing well, as they typically sat back after taking an early lead through Mueller’s header.
The result denied Bayern the victory which would have confirmed them as Bundesliga champions, now they have to wait until Saturday’s away game at Ingolstadt when they could become the first club to win four straight German league titles.
The good news from the Gladbach draw is that Germany defender Jerome Boateng is fit again after 99 days out with a groin injury having played the first 68 minutes in Munich.
“It was important to get a few minutes. I hope with the emotions of the game I’ll have the strength to play for the 90 minutes (against Atletico). The tempo will be very different,” said Boateng.
“Our chances are good. We’re playing at home, the pitch will be good and we want to put pressure on from the start.”
In turn, Diego Simeone’s Atletico were boosted by the news Uruguay defender Diego Godin and Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco took part in training on Sunday after injury.
Godin has missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury and is set to return as the cornerstone of Atletico’s defence in their bid to repeat their run to the 2014 final, there they lost 4-1 to Real Madrid after extra-time.
“It is the best thing to have great games and the tiredness matters little,” said Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann, the goal-scorer in their 1-0 Spanish league win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, when Simeone made seven changes.
“We are very enthusiastic. Every player dreams of playing in a Champions League semi-final and we will give everything.”