Back on track under Solari
Bayern Munich are embracing the role of underdogs for today’s Bundesliga showdown at leaders Borussia Dortmund with captain Manuel Neuer admitting all is not well with the defending champions.
Bayern have won 10 of their last 19 games against Dortmund, including a 6-0 thrashing of the current league leaders last March when Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick against his former club in Munich.
Six months later, third-placed Bayern trail Dortmund by four points in the table and struggling for form under coach Niko Kovac.
In the wake of a 2-0 defeat at Hertha Berlin and a 3-0 upset at home to Moenchengladbach – with Bayern outplayed in both league games – the Bavarian giants have laboured to beat even limited teams in recent weeks.
“We are not the ‘Super-Bayern’ that everyone knows and aren’t setting off fireworks with our performances,” admitted Neuer after Wednesday’s laboured 2-0 win over AEK on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Even Bayern president Uli Hoeness sees the Bavarians as “underdogs”, a notion the hosts reject.
“We’ve heard what has been said, but we don’t care – we are just enjoying the situation,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc on Thursday.
“It doesn’t make much sense to compare (Dortmund with Bayern) – they have won the last six Bundesliga titles.”
On paper, there is little cause for concern from Bayern’s perspective.
They trail Dortmund by only four points and on the verge of the Champions League knockout stages, topping their group with 10 points.
Yet frustrating recent performances tell a different story with rumours of unrest.
Senior players Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are reportedly not behind Kovac – a toxic situation for any head coach at Bayern.
Defeat would leave Bayern seven points behind Dortmund – a near-unthinkable situation.
The goals could flow with Dortmund striker Paco Alcacer scoring seven goals in his first four league games on loan from Barcelona.
Likewise, Lewandowski has scored 12 goals in his 15 games against Dortmund, who he left on a free transfer in 2014.
Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Buerki picked up a knock in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Bayern winger Arjen Robben trained individually on Thursday as he recovers from a knee injury.
Bayern will head north determined to claim a third straight win at Dortmund after last November’s 3-1 league win and penalty shoot-out victory in the pre-season German Super Cup in August 2017. – AFP
– Santiago Solari (above) is pitching for more than just three points as Real Madrid continue their revival and head to Celta Vigo aiming for their fourth straight win.
Solari’s time as the European champions’ stop-gap following Julen Lopetegui’s sacking will expire over the international break, and club president Florentino Perez needs to decide whether to take him on permanently.
Real have bounced back under Solari, with Wednesday’s 5-0 drubbing of Viktoria Plzen a clear indication of that fact.
Victory could be enough to convince Perez the job should be Solari’s, at least until the end of the season, when an alternative could be available.
Madrid have scored 11 and conceded none since Solari’s arrival, against admittedly modest opposition – Melilla from the Spanish third tier, Real Valladolid at home and Plzen.
Luck has also played its part, as Vinicius Junior’s deflected shot prevented what looked set to be a stalemate against Valladolid with seven minutes to play. A draw there and Solari’s tenure might never have got off the ground.
However it was Solari’s decision to bring on the 18-year-old Vinicius, whose youthful exuberance produced an ambitious strike at the end of a weaving run.
Celta will offer a sterner test this weekend. They are the third highest scorers in the division and in Iago Aspas boast the sort of smart finisher Madrid might have signed in the summer.
Aspas’ eight goals this term puts him one up on Lionel Messi, who could return tomorrow after three weeks out with a broken arm when league leaders Barcelona host Real Betis.
Messi was included in the squad to face Inter Milan on Wednesday but was a spectator as his side reached the Champions League knockout stages with a 1-1 draw at the San Siro.
Atletico Madrid head into their clash with Athletic Bilbao today with a dizzying list of absentees.
Diego Costa, Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Godin and Stefan Savic were all missing for Tuesday’s impressive 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, in which Jose Gimenez pulled up with a muscle problem. – AFP
Solari has to stay until the end of the season. He’s a great coach. Karim Benzema Real Madrid striker