Pep targets tiki-taka return
LONDON — Brazil captain Neymar has tipped Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho (pictured) to become the biggest star in England after some eye-catching displays in the Premier League.
The fleet-footed Coutinho has played an important part in Liverpool’s resurgence in recent weeks, with the Brazilian adding greater consistency to his burgeoning bag of tricks. Barcelona forward Neymar played alongside Coutinho as they came up through the youth ranks of Brazilian football and is a big admirer.
“He can be the star player in England. This season I think everybody in England is seeing how talented he is - and I know he has a lot more to show,” Neymar was quoted as saying on the Liverpool website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
“When he has the ball at his feet, he can make things happen for himself and he can make things happen for other players. He is a very special player.” Although few have doubted Coutinho’s talent, his ability to regularly influence games was often called into question.
He now seems to be a more consistent threat, however, and scored a superb winner to help Liverpool beat second-tier Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup on Wednesday last week.
“He will play a big part in the future of the national team,” Neymar added. “The national steam is very strong, but the way he is playing for Liverpool, I’m sure he will be a big part of Brazil going forward.”
— Reuters BERLIN — As Bayern Munich steam towards an inevitable 25th German league title, Pep Guardiola wants a return to “tikitaka” football in the Bavarian giants’ assault on the much-coveted Champions League title.
“We’re not perfect, I know that. We have to improve,” said Bayern’s perfectionist Spanish coach after Saturday’s routine 2-0 league win at bottom side VFB Stuttgart.
Under Guardiola, Barcelona dominated Spanish football by winning 14 titles from 2008 until 2012 with their fast-paced passing, dubbed “tiki-taka”, to keep the ball away from the opposition.
Bayern are used to enjoying around 70 percent possession under Guardiola, are eight points clear in the Bundesliga and on course for a third straight league title.
But after three below-par domestic performances so far in 2015 by Bayern’s own lofty standards, the Spaniard will use this week for some fine-tuning before their European assault recommences.
The 2013 Champions League winners travel to Lviv on 17 February to face Shakhtar Donetsk, due to the political situation in Ukraine, in their last 16 first leg clash.
Hamburg are Bayern’s next domestic opponent in Munich on Saturday in their final warm-up, but Guardiola wants to show the north Germans no love on Valentine’s day.
“We have to find our game, that is our goal for the next few games,” said Guardiola.
“The key is less running and more play, make the pass as quickly as possible.”
An Arjen Robben first-half goal and a wonderful free kick from defender David Alaba gave Bayern three more league points in Stuttgart, but Guardiola wants more.
“The win was important for the psyche, but also for (our place in) the table,” said Guardiola.
“The result was important for our preparations against Hamburg and Donetsk, but we have to improve to reach our level.”
There has been a nervous energy to Guardiola since Bayern were thrashed 4-1 at secondplaced Wolfsburg on their return from the winter break at the end of January.
Guardiola sailed close to the wind in the 1-1 draw at home to Schalke last Tuesday by storming out of his technical area to remonstrate with assistant referee Markus Hacker after a Robert Lewandowski goal was disallowed.
He later hugged the fourth official when Arjen Robben gave Bayern the lead but escaped any sanction from referee Bastian Dankert.
Guardiola regularly bemoans the expectations from Bayern’s board and fans alike for his side to win every match by a significant scoreline and a convincing performance.
Having wrapped up last season’s Bundesliga title in April with a record seven matches to spare in his first season, Guardiola is now under pressure to deliver another Champions League crown, especially with this year’s final to be held in Berlin on 6 June.
Bayern are still smarting from losing the last final on German soil when they were beaten by Chelsea in 2012 at their own Allianz Arena.having been well-beaten by Real Madrid in last season’s semi-finals, Guardiola is eager to win a third Champions League title, having lifted the trophy twice as Barcelona coach.
But he insists his side are far from the finished article.
“We need a bit more time; the January winter break wasn’t so good for us - you can’t play for eleven months at this level and always win, win, win,” he insisted.
It’s Guardiola’s desire for constant improvement which has pushed Bayern to new heights, according to France legend Zinedine Zidane.
“FC Bayern were always good, but the club is now one of the top sides in the world,” the 42-year-old, who now coaches Real’s reserves, told German daily Bild on Sunday.
“That’s down to Pep; he has given the club an extra kick and has brought his own touch to their game, which makes the difference.
“They always played fast, attacking football, but under Guardiola, they have added a bit extra.”— Reuters
PEP Guardiola (front right) wants to fine-tune the Bayern Munich side before their European assault recommences.