After the heartbreaking loss to Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal semifinal and devastating injuries to Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski, Pep Guardiola has the big task of playing the next Bundesliga match against one of the toughest domestic opponents in Bayer Leverkusen. All the while trying to rest his regulars for the much bigger challenge of facing FC Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal. It's a tricky tightrope walk for the Spanish coach not wanting to lose momentum by fielding a team of scrubs, possibly losing two games in a row and damaging morale, but in also trying to keep his handful of available players healthy.
Pep Guardiola and media director Markus Hörwick sat down for the customary press conference with the sports media representatives.
FC Bayern Press Conference, May 1st, 2015
No surprise, a lot of the questions were about the current injury situation, and how to handle the meaningless (to Bayern) Bundesliga game with the season-defining clash with the Spanish giants looming in the near future.
Here are the highlights of today's questions and answers (my interjections in italics):
(Before answering the first question, Pep said a few words about Gregory Mertens, the Belgian former U-21 player who collapsed during a game, and died three days later in the hospital.)
The first words are for Gregory Mertens and his family. It's terrible news. A big hug to his family.
On what is the bigger disappointment, the loss against Dortmund, or the many injuries - Of course, the injuries are always a problem, especially for the players. We lost, but we lost the way a big team loses sometimes. Since I've been coach at Bayern, this is the best game we've had against BVB. But that's football, we did everything right, throughout the game, but that can happen. Congratulations to BVB.
On what the injury situation is with Robert Lewandowski - I don't know, we will have to see in the next few days. We'll see Sunday or Monday what his condition is like.
On Bayer Leverkusen's good form, unbeaten in nine games, and not allowing a goal in the last four home games - It was tough in the DFB Pokal (Bayern won in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals), and it was tough when they came to Munich. But the Bundesliga is over, we already won. Our focus is on next Wednesday (first leg of the Champions League semifinal in Barcelona), but we have a game coming up, and they have more to play for than us. If we can rotate, we will.
On what Lewandowski can physically do right now - He has a concussion, a broken nose and a broken jaw. In the first few days, he was obviously in pain, and we will see in the next few days. The doctor is in charge, and if he says he can play, ok, if he says the risk is too high, he won't play. On Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, we will analyze the situation.
On whether it was a mistake to play Arjen Robben, in retrospect - I have never played a player without the consent of the doctors, the physios, and, of course, the player. We talked with Arjen, and with the doctors and physios, and he was fit. He was in perfect shape (well, apparently not). He is a very important player for us, and that's why he played. This kind of situation can happen. But, don't forget, whenever anything bad happens, it's always the responsibility of the coach.
On Sebastian Kehl's barbs in the press about Bayern needing to practice their penalty kicks - We have time to practice PKs, because we already won the Bundesliga. Sebastian Kehl should know that we have lost two or three times to Dortmund, and the coaches have never tried to lay blame on anyone. And, in this last game, we had two big reasons to say something (missed handball in the box by Marcel Schmelzer, and the Mitchell Langerak collision with Lewandowski, both non-calls), and all we did at the post-game press conference was congratulate Jürgen Klopp and BVB. But, my advice to Sebastian Kehl is, if you are behind by 35 points (he puts his index finger over his mouth in the international sign for "shut up"), it's better not to talk (not to nitpick, but Dortmund's deficit on Bayern is actually 37 points, but who's counting?).
On who needs a break tomorrow, and who will fill up the roster tomorrow - Tomorrow, we have 15 players. Today, we called up three or four players from the second and third team (Lukas Görtler and Rico Strieder are among them, and didn't play in today's Bayern II game). Today we will practice, and analyze the condition of the players, and decide on the roster. Right now, we have 14, 15 players, and these players will travel to Leverkusen. If we have more than one player for a position, then we can rotate. But, for example, with someone like Juan Bernat, we only have the one option, so our situation is a little complicated. But, of course, we're looking ahead to Barcelona a little, but we still have to play with 11 players in Leverkusen. I can't rotate eight, nine, ten players, because that's not possible. But I think everyone [who is fit] will fly. We only have 15 players, we can't leave two or three of them at home, we'll be down to 12. Maybe they won't play 90 minutes, maybe they'll play a half.
On public criticism about Pep's coaching decisions against Dortmund, including Lothar Matthäus, who questioned Pep's moves - I've been at Bayern for two years, and we haven't lost much, but every time we have lost, I have been criticized. Lothar Matthäus is a club legend, like [Stefan] Effenberg or Franz Beckenbauer, so he can say whatever he wants, I have no problem with it. But, if it's about why a player like Rafinha is playing in a certain position, the players know the reason behind it. I didn't want to leave two players defending against Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who are fast players, and I wanted someone fast in that position. Normally, Dante plays in that position, but Rafinha is faster. I wanted to overload in the back, to control those two. Normally, when David Alaba is fit, he plays in that position. I know the quality of my players perfectly, and I know exactly where their best position is. But, Rafinha can play in many positions, because he is an outstanding player. But I accept it, that is my job. It's the job of Bayern legends and journalists to analyze my decisions.
On whether Franck Ribery might be available for the second leg - I don't know. I hope, but his ankle speaks for itself. I don't know right now.
On whether this is a difficult situation for Pep - It's been this way for two or three months. I've lived with this situation for a while. Of course, I would like it if players could play against Barcelona, the bigger the roster, the better. But we've had to deal with this recently, and we will fly to Barcelona to put in our best possible performance. Never in my career, never, in my time as a coach, at the second team in Barcelona, with the first team, and now, have I ever complained or tried to place blame when we lost. When we lost, we shake hands with the opponent, congratulate them, and analyze what we can improve, that is my job. When we won, I never gloated or showed a lack of respect for the opponent. Never.
On where Ribery stands, if he can't even run - Every week, we talk about Ribery, and other injured players. I'm not a doctor, or a physio. Every day he's here, morning, afternoon, for his rehab, in order to return as quickly as possible, but he's not fit yet, that's the deal.
On playing Bastian Schweinsteiger far up front at the end of the last game - I talked to Basti about it. This was his best performance since I've been here. Of course, Basti can play anywhere. Against Hertha, he had three scoring chances in 15 minutes. Against BVB he had two or three clear chances, he has that outstanding quality. His body language was also very good. Of course he's a very important player next Wednesday.
On how Pep has had success at Bayern - (This question and answer were in English, so that makes translation a little easier) It's a big club, good organization, and especially good players, and that's the reason we won four titles last season. This season we won the Bundesliga as well, that's the reason why. It's no big secret, trainers can only have success at big clubs with big players, without big players, it's not possible, you're not going to win. I knew that in the beginning of my career as a trainer, and now, five years later, I am more convinced of that. In Barcelona, it was because of the players, it was a big club, and here it is as well. So, no secret. Both Barcelona and Bayern are big clubs, huge clubs.
On Javier Martinez possibly playing in Leverkusen - Yes, maybe he can play.
On İlkay Gündoğan not resigning with Dortmund, would Pep be interested - I have a lot of other important things on my mind, and I'm not thinking about next season. That's a topic for Matthias Sammer, Michael Reschke, and Karl Heinz Rummenigge, it's not a topic for me right now (well, that doesn't sound like an outright dismissal).
On why Claudio Pizarro is not playing - I have other options. For me, Claudio, in the penalty box, is our best player. I can't imagine how good he was at 25 years old, and he still is good at 36. The last two months, he was injured, and he needs a little more time. In the last game against BVB, maybe if Robben didn't get hurt, I could have put him at the end, but we already used all three substitutions. But we need all of our players, and if he is fit, that's great news for us. He has outstanding quality, and in the next games, not just in the Bundesliga, but also against Barcelona, we can use him.
On Hermann Gerland - This is a real legend at Bayern Munich. He's a great person, great guy, always helps, has a ton of experience, knows every player in the Bundesliga. Especially last year, he helped me a lot. A great person. Before I started here, I had a meeting with Matthias Sammer and Kalle Rummenigge, they talked about Hermann Gerland, and told me it would be good if he could stay on the coaching staff. I said ok, if you think he's a great coach and person, I have no problem with him being here. It was a great decision, great advice. Very good. I love him.
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.