Friday 13 December 2019

Pep Guardiola wary of Real revenge

Pete Jenson

It was a slip of the tongue from Carlo Ancelotti and it revealed almost as much about Wednesday night's meeting between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid as everything else he said.

"Barcelona won their league a month ago and they are the reigning champions," said the Italian coach, confusing Pep Guardiola's current team with his former club and laying out the harsh reality for Real – they are as much up against Spain's most successful coach in recent years as they are against the Bundesliga champions.

Guardiola's Barça side dominated Real from 2008 through to 2012, inflicting heavy defeats on them at the Bernabeu and leaving them trailing in terms of trophies won during those four years.

"I was unbeaten here but with another club," the Catalan said. "It's always difficult to beat Madrid and we will not do so without playing extremely well. Player for player they are the most difficult rival we could have drawn. There is no one in football at the moment with a squad like Madrid's."

It was half charm offensive and half genuine concern about Real's offensive capabilities, although he will be heartened to know Gareth Bale is unlikely to play having not met with the squad because of flu which has been troubling him all week and forced him to miss training on Monday. Real are outscoring the rest of Europe's elite clubs at the moment and with Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema in attack they will still offer a potent threat.

"They buy players who run a lot and who run fast," Guardiola added. "They have four of them. [Angel] Di Maria, [Gareth] Bale, Cristiano and [Karim] Benzema, and if you give them space then they can kill you. It's not easy to play against them but we will try to defend as best we can and play our game."

If there is one team in Europe that plays with their defensive line as dangerously high as Barça it is the team led by their former coach. If Bale misses out, dubbed "Usain Bale" since his wonder goal in last week's Spanish Cup final, Di Maria will probably move into attack and Isco will play in midfield.

Ronaldo will be looking to set a new Champions League record of 15 goals for a season. "He has trained well these last few days," Ancelotti said. "We will have a fitness test before the game but everyone seems to think he will be able to play without any problems."

It was Ancelotti's best attempt at the smoke-and-mirrors approach over whether or not a star player might be fit or not. Atletico's Diego Simeone practised it so well in the quarter-finals against Barcelona with Diego Costa, but Ancelotti cannot help but play a straight bat. He also revealed that Fabio Coentrao would start at left-back. "Marcelo started training with the rest of the squad at the start of the week but he will only be fit to start on the bench," he added.

The Portuguese full-back has improved of late but will still be a major target for Bayern with Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm likely to double up down the Bayern right. Franck Ribéry's charges at Dani Carvajal on the other flank will surely form another big part of Guardiola's game plan as he looks to extend his incredible run in the Colosseum of his old enemy.

Bayern failed to impress in Saturday's win at bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig, and the team were warned by their coach. "We won't reach the final if we don't produce two outstanding performances," said Guardiola, whose side failed to win in three Bundesliga games after clinching the title.

"We won games without playing well but playing stable," Guardiola said. "After we won the Bundesliga our mentality was a little bit down. I was happy last game because we recovered our spirit as a team despite not playing good. Hopefully we can maintain this level in the semi-final."

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