It's matchday three in the 2015/16 Bundesliga season, and it's the first big showdown of the season for the defending champions. Second place Bayern Munich will host third place Bayer Leverkusen at the Allianz Arena, with both teams starting the season with two wins, and at least one of them will say goodbye to their perfect record. Will the mid-week CL qualifying match against Lazio Roma be a disadvantage, resulting in tired legs, or will it help the Werkself by being in an early season rhythm?
Pep Guardiola and media director Markus Hörwick sat down for the customary press conference with the sports media representatives.
FC Bayern Press Conference, August 28, 2015
Here are the highlights of today's questions and answers (my interjections in italics):
On the opponent, Leverkusen - Leverkusen is a big rival (...pauses...) I'm not going to say biggest rival, but one of the big, big, big rivals for the Bundesliga. It's a unique team, specifically their playing style, very intensive, lots of pressure on the ball. The players don't have any time to think. Against this team, when we don't have the ball, we have to do a lot of running, when we have the ball, we run a lot less, and let the ball do the running. We have to play intelligently, and let the ball do the running.
On having to play against Leverkusen without Jerome Boateng and Medhi Benatia - (Boateng is suspended, Benatia is hurt) The decision process is simple. When you have a lot of options, you have to think about it, when you have less options, then it's easy to make a decision. Of course it's a big problem. We have five central defenders, and only one, Dante, in his special situation, is available. But, if a team wants to win the Bundesliga, you have to deal with the problems in this situation.
On what he means by Dante's "special situation" - Well, we've been talking for two months about him staying or not staying, so that's the reason it's special. But I've said many times before, he's one of the best professionals I've ever met. I want him to be happy, and him and Pierre [Emile Hojbjerg] are Bayern players and they're ready to play tomorrow (this press conference occurred before Hojbjerg's loan to Schalke was finalized. At this point, Hörwick interjected that no decision had been made at that point).
On how hard it is to tell a player he isn't even on the game sheet - It's the most difficult thing. It's the hardest thing at my job and in my work. Especially when the players train like they do. But when you play for 11 months, and you are competing for every title, you can't play with 11 or 12 players. Robert Lewandowski didn't start the last game, but, in 20 minutes, had three goal scoring chances. Sometimes the game is won by the starters, a lot of times the guys off the bench win it.
On how to handle free-kick specialist Hakan Çalhanoğlu, back off in some situations? - Yes, but what do you do when Leno kicks it all the way forward, and [Stefan] Kiessling heads it on, almost into our penalty box, and the referee whistles? We saw what happened against Hamburg and against Hoffenheim, where we had 90% ball possession (slight exaggeration, coach, but not by that much), but we had more free kicks called against us. It's hard to control, but we need to try to avoid giving up free kicks around our penalty box.
On the options for playing the second spot in central defense - We don't have a lot of options. We have Rafinha, Xabi [Alonso], Dante, [David] Alaba. One of those players will play that position (did Pep just reveal that he's playing a three man backline, and Dante isn't even first choice for the central spot?)
On the importance of Pep's "favorite player" Thiago's extension - (Thiago signed a contract extension on Thursday, tying him to the club until 2019) It's important for Bayern Munich and for Thiago. I have a lot of "favorite players", not just Thiago. He extended his contract, because he wants to stay at Bayern Munich, and Bayern extended his contract because they want him to stay.
On whether Thiago discussed his extension with Pep - Thiago has a father...and a mother, and a private life. He came here to play for Bayern, and maybe a small part was because Pep was here. But, he makes his decisions for him, not for me. He is happy here, he wants to give his best here. The last two years he had a lot of problems, but he wants to show the club, the people here, the fans, how good he is.
On the impact of Thiago's extension on Pep's decision - My decision? My decision is to pick the best starting lineup for tomorrow, to try to win the game. Next question, please! (Hey, have you guys heard that Pep doesn't like quesitons about his contract situation? Nah, me neither!)
On whether Pep inspected the Allianz Arena field again - (Last home game, Pep was very unhappy with the grass at the AA, which took a beating from a slew of games that were played shortly before the home opener, including the Audi Cup and 1860 games) I hope our grass will be better tomorrow. But it needs time. I hope it will improve after the national team break. We need it. Against Leverkusen, for example, it's important how quickly the ball moves, that's the difference against this team. If the grass is good, we can play faster.
On Franck Ribery's prognosis, and how he feels - (Ribery is still complaining of pain in his ankle, five months after what was originally an injury that was supposed to take a few days) I don't know. Please have patience with Franck. It's a tough situation, it's been a long time, but he definitely wants to come back. He's fighting every day, every week to improve it. We talked today. How do you think he feels? He needs to keep fighting, the light [at the end of the tunnel] is there. Sooner or later, he'll be back on the field.
On the astronomical transfer fees being thrown around recently - They are huge amounts, but if a club wants to pay it... The reason is a lot of people watch football games, advertisers pay big money. If less people watched, , it would be impossible to pay these amounts. Is it normal? No, but if a club wants to pay someone that much, it's not a problem.
On whether these fees are ruining the game - That's why Germany is amazing. It makes me happy when the teams are financially balanced (he gives a thumbs up). For the future, it's better. But maybe we all have to go to England in the future (easy, Man City fans, he was joking when he said that).
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.