Back on track un­der So­lari

The Citizen (KZN) - - FRONT PAGE - Madrid

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

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