It's the classic North-South duel, one of the biggest rivalries in the history of the Bundesliga, and it's the 100th time it's being played. Too bad the Hamburger Sport Verein may not be able to keep up its end of the bargain, as they sit in 12th place, a mere three points above the relegation zone (but only three points below seventh place as well). Pep Guardiola and media director Markus Hörwick sat down for the customary press conference with the sports media representatives.
FC Bayern Press Conference, February 13th, 2015
Here are the highlights of today's questions and answers (my interjections in italics):
On the fitness of his players and potential returns of injured players - Everyone is fit. Franck [Ribéry] and Rafinha have returned to practice, and they've both trained well. Only Jérôme [Boateng] is suspended (this is the last game of his suspension from the red card in the Schalke game), everyone else is fit.
On how nice it is to have a long week of training (no mid-week game this week) - It all depends on the schedule, and we have to adapt, but it's good.
On how strong HSV is, after getting a scoreless tie against Bayern in the Hinrunde, and getting a couple of wins recently - We noticed in the game in Hamburg. It was the first game for my colleague [Joe Zinnbauer], but it was very tough. We played well. They are a very aggressive team, there is no time to think. They go forward, long balls, fast, with [Marcel] Jansen,[Ivica] Olic, [Pierre-Michel] Lasogga, and others, they're very fast. We will try to play our game as well as we can, and of course, try to take three points.
On whether the win against Stuttgart loosened the mood in the team - The mood is good. The players aren't at the top of their ability yet. We had trouble in buildup play in the first half against Stuttgart. It was very slow. We had some problems. In that phase of the game, you can't play well. At the end, when you have good pressure, with two forwards against two central defenders, our buildup play is very important. The other solution is to play long balls, but that's too easy. You put the balls in there, and have the forwards try to win the headers. For our control of the game, and controlling the counter, and creating scoring chances, we need our build up play, and I hope that works better tomorrow. We talked about it a bit, and we worked on it in training.
On whether Franck Ribéry and Rafinha are fully fit and an option for the starting lineup - Yes, they are options for the starting lineup. They trained well.
On the forwards (Lewandowski, Müller, Götze) not having scored yet in 2015 - The forwards' success depends on our play. Without good team play, our forwards have less chances. I'm not a coach that leaves the forwards to themselves, working on creating their own scoring chances. When we don't play well, they have less chances. Of course, Lewa [Robert Lewandowski] had a clear chance, but I'm not concerned about it. I am always concerned about our playing style, that's most important. When you have that, you allow a lot less chances to the opponent, and you can create more scoring chances for yourself. That's our goal, that's my goal for my players.
On not creating as many scoring chances, according to the statistics - Yes, that's the most important for me. It's because of our buildup play, and our passing. Right now, we're running, but we need to play. We don't need to run. We run a lot of kilometers, but that is not what I want. We need to focus on our game, on the ball, on not turning over the ball, on getting into the right positions, that's most important for me. When we play well, we will have had a lot of consecutive passes, but right now, we have some problems in that situation. (Markus Hörwick asks the reporter if he understood that. Pep turns to Hörwick and says "He listened to me. Normally, when I talk to him, he's always looking at you.", which gets a laugh out of Hörwick. Then Pep turns to the journalists and says "Next, next please!")
On the importance of creating scoring chances - Listen, if we allow four goals, and score less, then the reason is our play. It's not that our back four is bad, or our forwards aren't fit, no. If our play is good, our forward pressure is there, our buildup and our overload in the middle, lots of passing in the midfield, there are many, many factors, and that, overall, is our game. And we have to improve that.
On Julian Green's situation, and whether Pep is worried about his development - (The Bayern youth product was loaned out to HSV to get playing time, but has often been left off the game sheet completely, and was rumored to have been demoted to the reserves in the 4th division) Yes, of course. But his playing time is not my business. It was my business when he was at FC Bayern, but it's my colleague's business. I can't comment on that, but for the next time, when we have a youth player from our academy, like [Pierre-Emile] Hojbjerg now in Augsburg, we can analyze the situation to get the player playing time. But, Julian Green's situation was very different. When he went to Hamburg, it was a different coach [Mirko Slomka], they changed coaches right away, and every coach has their own ideas.
On the job Joe Zinnbauer has done with HSV, and their improved position in the standings - His results are better. Hamburg was in a critical situation. Joe did a great job, great job. Maybe they have more confidence, that's normal, but from what I have seen against Hannover or our Pokal game, it's similar. It's the same, the same aggressiveness, going forward with their center backs, their outside backs. Tomorrow, it will be important for us to be fast inside our heads, and attack as quickly as possible.
On the new EPL TV contract, and the danger of all the good players going to England - I read about it, now the Premier League has more money, they can buy everything. Ok, we have less money, but we have more ideas. It's not a problem. For me, the Bundesliga and the Spanish league are still big leagues, both are very attractive for players, but if the English teams have a lot of money, they can buy the best players. Normally, the players will go to where they can make the most money, and of course, the Premier League is very attractive, not just in England, but all around the world. But, in my opinion, if you have less money, you need more ideas, you need to anticipate situations. Bayern has to compete with the big clubs in the world, and we can't complain. We have to deal with the situation, and, of course, the situation is good.
On whether Robert Lewandowski has trouble understanding Pep's system - (Pep is visibly irritated by this question) He hasn't told me he has any problems. My office door is always open, 24 hours a day. He told me my system is very easy. I am very satisfied with him (Pep sort of stares down the reporter for a few seconds).
On how important Arjen Robben's top performances are while the team isn't quite clicking yet - Very important. He's gone a long time (Pep knocks on the desk) without injuries, that's the most important thing in his career, because he had many problems early in his time here. In the last two years, he is totally fit, his mentality is that of a big player, his aggressiveness, his drive to score goals. Our game must improve for our forwards to get more scoring chances, but, in the end, at that position, in the penalty box, the difference is the hunger you have, and the mindset that you want to score goals. At the moment, Arjen is fundamental for us. Every game, every time he gets the ball, you can see his body language, he wants to score. You need confidence to score, and Arjen has that, and we are very satisfied with him.
On whether other players can use Robben as an example - Yes, of course. It's hard for forwards, they don't have a lot of space, they face a lot of defenders, it's not a comfortable situation for them. You don't have a lot of time to think, and sometimes you have to go by yourself to create something, and Arjen, in that kind of situation, is good (a slight understatement, methinks).
On whether Robben is a model professional, with his dedication to his work - I've been lucky to have trained a lot of very, very good players, and, of course, Arjen is one of those outstanding players. But it's not only Arjen here, and also in Barcelona and in the reserve team, I've had very good players.
On getting back in form for the Champions League, after not winning the first two games - Don't forget, at the beginning of this season, I read from a lot of journalists and prestigious people here in Germany that we were not favorites for the Bundesliga title, because it's always hard after a World Cup. In 1974, with all those big players, Bayern came in 10th in the Bundesliga. So we've done an outstanding job, 11 point lead after the Hinrunde. We didn't play well against Wolfsburg, we didn't control their counters, and they were much better than us. But against Schalke, we played very well, 11 against 11, unfortunately, Jerome Boateng got a red card, and we played 70 minutes with 10 against 11, so we have to analyze the game in that light. In Stuttgart we didn't play particularly well in the first half, second half was better, but we controlled the game, and didn't allow many chances. We have an eight point lead, but I know if we play like we did in the last three games, we will have problems defending the Bundesliga title, and we will have no chance to win the Champions League. I'm sure of that. But I know we will improve, I'm sure of that too. I hope that next Tuesday in the Champions League, we can reach our level, and then we can compete in the Bundesliga, the CL and the Pokal.
On whether play has improved in time for Shakhtar Donetsk- I don't know. Normally, before the game, I don't know what will happen. I know what the opponent does, I come up with an idea for our team. If Arjen Robben plays on the right wing, or Thomas Müller, it's a completely different game. So I have an idea for our game, but I never know what will happen, but I hope it's the best outcome.
On Marco Reus signing an extension with Borussia Dortmund - I congratulate Dortmund, and Marco. It's his decision, he's a great player, and I hope he can play the rest of the season without getting hurt, because he was hurt before Brazil, and after. = As a fan of the game, I want to see the best players in the world, and Marco is one of those players.
On flying into a war-torn Ukraine next week - It's a weird situation, but when we fly to the Ukraine, we won't have any problems. But we are concerned for the people that live there, with their conflict with Russia. I hope the politicians can find a solution as soon as possible for the situation.
Disclaimer - Due to the nature of having a coach whose native language is not German, the translation of the quotes is not exactly word for word, but includes some interpretation on the part of the author of this article, in order to more accurately portray what the coach is intending to say. There is some necessary guesswork involved.