Back to the Bundesliga, where FC Bayern will travel to minnows Paderborn, after a mostly disappointing outing in the Champions League. Pep Guardiola and media director Markus Hörwick sat down for the customary press conference with the sports media representatives.
FC Bayern Press Conference, February 20th, 2015
Here are the highlights of today's questions and answers (my interjections in italics):
On Thiago's return to FC Bayern, and when he will return - (Thiago Alcantara returned to Munich on Wednesday, after a lengthy rehab stint in Barcelona) We were very happy that Holger Badstuber came back, and also with Javier Martinez on his way back, it's the same with Thiago. His last game was last March, so almost a year ago. The doctors told me the knee is progressing well, we think that it's the last phase of his rehab, and I hope he can get back to practice, practice, practice, and hopefully he can help the team.
On what the next steps will be for Thiago - His knee will tell us. His knee appears to be ok, but he needs to do more, more, more.
On how the team is handling a tough English week - (The team played on Tuesday in the Ukraine, flew back the same night, with players not getting to bed until 4 am, and now they have to fly to Paderborn today) It's normal for an English week, we have an extra day this time. The Paderborn game will be completely different from our game on Tuesday (against Shakhtar Donetsk), but we have four days. It's dangerous, because it's a good opponent. OK, this is Paderborn's first year in the Bundesliga, I know what people think, it's the game after a Champions League match, it won't be easy. But, it's the Bundesliga, the most important title to defend. I have great respect for them, I saw the game against Hannover (Paderborn won 2-1 for their first win of 2015), they're very well organized defensively, and have very good players.
On how dangerous Paderborn can be for Bayern - It's always dangerous, playing the long ball to the forwards, good counter attacks, switch play from side to side. It will depend on our quality.
On how nice it would be to have Thiago and Philipp Lahm available to play now - I'm happy for the players. They want to play, they want to stay on the field. Of course, the more players we have of that quality, guys that can play in tight spaces, they both have that outstanding ability. But we haven't had them for a while, and we still did a good job. Sure, we want them back, but we have to wait.
On how important Thiago and Lahm are, for their ability to read the play - (Pep looks slightly annoyed) All the players are important. These players have special qualities. I am the coach of Bayern, and we've had many injuries, but we don't complain, because we've played well with the other players. We're not going to lose game after game, waiting until Thiago and Philipp come back. If they're back, then we can utilize their special qualities, but without them, we still have to play well.
On when Thiago will be ready to play - I don't know, I think maybe two, three weeks, maybe a month, he can train with us, that's the first step. We'll have to see how his knee reacts, and after that, we'll see. The doctors are very optimistic about his knee, Thiago is optimistic too, so I am too.
On the discussion about Robert Lewandowski - If Mario Götze didn't play in Donetsk, there would be talk about problems with Götze, if Thomas Müller didn't play in Donetsk, we would hear about the coach having problems with the player, if Franck Ribéry didn't play in Shaktar Donetsk, there's a problem with Ribéry, the same thing with Arjen Robben and the others. I have five top-top-top forwards, and every time one of them doesn't play, that's normal. If we don't win 4-0, it's a problem. I understand the situation, but we have to adapt. Playing with five or six forwards in Europe is not easy for me as coach, but I try things. I made the decision for the last game, but I have said many times, I am very satisfied with Robert. I've spoken to him many times at length, he knows my opinion on his performance and his quality. I have no doubts about him.
On Dante's recent lack of playing time - Sometimes I have trouble convincing you on this. When there are problems, it's always seen as an individual's problems. When we score a lot, the forwards get credit, when we don't allow a lot of goals, it's these players. I have tried from the beginning to convince you, and my players too, although convincing my players is easy, since we see each other every day: football is a team game. If all we allowed was a 30 or 40 meter free kick on goal in Donetsk, that's the whole team, not just one guy. When we gave up four goals in Wolfsburg, that wasn't on Dante. We left Dante in one-on-ones against [Bas] Dost and [Kevin] De Bruyne, that's a concept problem, a coach's problem. We didn't allow anything against Hamburg or Donetsk, only one chance against Schalke. We had to deal with six very strong, very fast Brazilians, it's not easy. I said after the game in Donetsk, I am very satisfied with our performance. In the end, the players did what I asked them to do. We have our chance to move on to the quarterfinals at home in the Allianz Arena in front of our fans. When we don't follow our idea, then we lose 4-1 to Wolfsburg, or 4-0 to Real Madrid. We don't have Javi Martinez, or Luiz Gustavo, or [Anatoly] Tymoschuk, or other outstanding players who have the legs to run back. But we don't want to chase the ball, we want to control the ball for long periods of time, if we don't play our idea, we would have to buy different players.
On whether Dante will be on the roster for Paderborn - He can play, sure. He could have played against Shakhtar, too, or against Hamburg. But we played with [Mehdi] Benatia, [Holger] Badstuber, Jérôme [Boateng], Dante. Last season, we played with two central defenders, now we have four, I'm very happy about that, but I have to make a decision.
On why he chose David Alaba for the center instead of one of the other CBs -Yes, they had some very fast players at those positions, I wanted a player with faster legs, that was my decision. Don't forget, we played all the games with Dante in the Hinrunde, and we allowed four goals (knocks on the table) with Dante! He's one of the most important players here, not just in my time, but with Jupp [Heynckes] winning the triple too. When we lose, I look at the big picture to figure out why.
On Xabi Alonso's current struggles- It's the same thing. We have midfielders that make runs, like Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, or Bastian Schweinsteiger, who can play further back, or can make runs, and Xabi is comfortable with that. We need this player and that player and that player, now it's a group of players, not one individual player. When we play with Philipp Lahm and David Alaba, it's a completely different game than playing with Thomas Müller and Mario Götze. Thomas Müller's and Mario Götze's quality is to go to goal, and the other are more for passing. And for passing, Xabi is better.
On Xabi Alonso appearing tired - Tired? We just had a six week winter break. The ball is always faster than the legs. Always. Always. I know I can't convince you, I'm not going to fight it, but the ball is always faster. If we want midfielders that run back a lot, we need to buy new players. We want to control the ball, that's why I want Xabi Alonso, and Thiago, and Basti, and Philipp Lahm, and I want Rafinha in the middle. I am comfortable when I have players that don't lose the ball, that's what I want. If we bought Xabi Alonso for tracking back on the play, we made a big mistake. That's not his strength. But in build up play, with other players, he's a better player. If we play with five forwards, their mindset is to move up front, but we have to control play. If Rafinha and Juan Bernat go up as well, then Xabi Alonso on his own. You can give me the fastest, strongest midfielder, he can't control the ball, here or anywhere else, because the ball is faster. Convinced? (Pep laughs and gives the reporter the thumbs up) Did you notice that I am happy to talk about football, instead of the other topics? Pep-Lewandowski problems, that's Scheiße (that gets a laugh from everyone).
On how Pep decides on which players play - If we're playing against a team with all 1.90m tall and slow, I could have used our regular CBs. Another reason I used David Alaba is his ability to initiate plays from the middle, and he is such a versatile player, that we could play with four, five or three in the back, if needed. But, I don't have any issues with players when they don't play. I know they're unhappy, and a little disappointed, because they want to play. That happens everywhere, here, in Paderborn. I try to explain to my players why they're playing or not playing. The idea is the same, but it depends on the opponent. If you're playing against Ryan Giggs on one side, and David Beckham on the other, it's a very different situation. Giggs goes deep, and Beckham goes into the middle. So we have to control that, and adjust as needed.
On the difference between last year's letdown after winning the Bundesliga, and the more steady approach this season - My feeling is, if we win this week in the Bundesliga, and we reach the quarterfinals in the CL, we will have a super, super season. But I also think that we will be fighting for the Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg until the end of the season, I'm sure of it. We're not going to win the league in February, like we heard people saying in November.
On Pep's plan for the season - No, I don't have a plan. As a coach, I train today, and try to win the game tomorrow. I don't understand how we can train today for next month's game. Next month, it might be a different coach (he smiles when he says that, I think he knows that he probably would need to be found passed out in a hotel room with a dead hooker next to him before Bayern fire him).
On Xabi Alonso's importance, and his absence in the next game in CL - Xabi Alonso is important because he is quick with his head, and his passing. If we need Xabi Alonso to chase back, I've heard, forget it, he is the worst player in the world. We bought Alonso to dominate possession, without him, we would be playing differently. Of course, without him, we can also play well.
On not playing Alonso in the BL, to prepare the team for the CL return leg - No, it doesn't matter. That's not a problem. I can't think about a game in the future, we will lose the Bundesliga. Tomorrow's game against Paderborn is the most important, and the best team will play. If Xabi can't play, ok, we'll find a different solution.
On Bastian Schweinsteiger's comments that his favorite position is the six (behind the midfield, in front of the defense), putting him in conflict with Alonso's natural position - Xabi has always played with a double six. I've said from the beginning that. For our defensive stability, we can't play with just one six. We've shown in the Hinrunde, where we only allowed 4 goals, that it doesn't matter if it's a single six or a double six, it's a team effort. Basti has always played in the double six, with Javi [Martinez], with Luiz Gustavo, with, I don't know, [Stefan] Effenberg (nope, not really), with [Mark] van Bommel. And he plays well there, but he can also play well there on his own. They can both play (Xabi and Basti), they're both intelligent.
On Mehdi Benatia's availability - He has a few problems, but he may be able to train today.
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.