As Bayern Munich travel east to face Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League, head coach Hans-Dieter Flick and vice-captain Thomas Muller spoke about the tough opposition waiting in Russia, the return of important players to the squad, and an improved Bayern defense, as well as the motivation in the squad for the packed schedule ahead.
Being the Bundesliga champions eight times in a row, it is very easy to get carried away and lose focus on the league while trying to maintaining a record winning streak in the Champions League at the same time. Flick, however, has his sights set sharply on all competitions again, careful to not let complacency creep into the team.
“For me the Bundesliga is the bread and butter,” Flick said. “It’s the reason we are in the UCL. I was very happy with the last three games. Of course, the Champions League is special and we want to try be as successful as we can be again this year.”
In Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayern will face another intense and physical side for the third time in a week. Conceding just nine goals in 11 games this season, while scoring 13 themselves, Moscow have shown they do not need too many goals to seal a win or to draw a game.
While Bayern are definitely the favorites going into this game, Flick was cautious about not having any lapses in concentration and taking the opposition lightly.
“They are one of the most in-form teams in the Russian league,” Flick remarked. “They have conceded the fewest goals and have some very, very good attacking players in (Fyodor) Smolov and Eder. We need to stay alert and focused.”
Considering how away teams tend to fare poorly in Russia, this fixture will continue to test Bayern’s endurance as there is little room for respite in their schedule. The return of Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané will certainly boost the squad to manage the game load and rotate players effectively.
After that humiliating 4-1 loss to TSG Hoffenheim, Bayern have since tidied up their defensive issues. In that loss, Bayern let Hoffenheim create 15 chances and have a whopping 17 shots. In comparison, Atletico Madrid managed to create just five chances and six shots — only one of which was on target.
It was a similar story against Eintracht Frankfurt. Frankfurt, a team known to have hurt Bayern one too many times in the past, were completely shut down this time. Their chances created summed up to a total of six against Bayern’s 22. Their shots however were limited to just eight — with only two of them being on target. The home side on the other side had 15 shots with nine of them being on target.
The result was two consecutive wins against arguably the most physical side in Europe and the most physical side in Germany with nine goals scored for Bayern and none against them.
Müller then highlighted the improvement in defense especially after the games against Hoffenheim and Berlin in which Bayern conceded seven goals.
“Against Hertha and Hoffenheim, we weren’t so solid in our defensive duels, but that was much better in the last matches,” Muller said. “Especially against teams like Atlético and Frankfurt.”
Bayern have now played nine games in 35 days averaging a game every 3.8 days. Winning eight of those nine games, they are off to a great start. Muller, however, underlined the importance of being consistent and motivated all the way through to the business end of the tournaments come April.
“The motivation comes from within and in the current period we are in, it’s not difficult to call upon that. It’s easy for us to be aggressive and creative in attack right from the off,” said Muller. “FC Bayern are always among the favorites, we’re always in the mix in spring. At the moment, we feel very, very strong, but that won’t help us in March and April when it comes to the knockout stage. But I have faith in the club and the team.”
Being a senior voice in the dressing room, it comes as great news to hear from Muller that the team continues to remain hungry to be a top team in Europe as they look to retain their Champions League trophy.