Deportivo La Coruna vBayern Munich
The task ahead for Bayern is easily explained; achieving it will not be so easy.
In order to stay in this year’s Champions League, they must win in Spain tonight, and pray Milan defeat Lens. Any other scenario and the Germans will be exiting a competition they were originally one of the favourites to win.
Quite how this scenario has developed is something of a mystery. Bayern have made a good start domestically, and top the Bundesliga by three points. They may be struggling in Europe, but they are still one of the continent’s strongest teams, and even in such adverse circumstances, it would be foolish to rule out a miracle qualification.
“Even under these unenviable circumstances we still have the class and substance to beat any team in Europe,” said coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
“All we have to do is roll up our sleeves and play like our lives depend on it.”
So where does the problem lie?
“It’s high time we get our acts together because up until now we have been toofancy-free in our approach,” revealed Hitzfeld.
Bayern’s defending at the weekend was certainly fancy free – Samuel Kuffour’s own goal epitomising this and gifted Hannover a point in the 3-3 draw at the Olympiastadion.
“The fact we let in three goals shows we are not defending well,” said the coach.
With Dutchman Roy Makaay returning to form for Depor with a two-goal salvo at the weekend, Bayern will have little option but to defend well.
Makaay’s hat-trick in Depor’s 3-2 win in Munich on Matchday One set the tone for Bayern’s descent to the bottom of the group, and strike partner Albert Luque knows a win will be enough to see La Coruna through.
“We will be really up for it,” promised Luque. “We know we are playing for our place in the next round.”
Morale in the German camp wasn’t helped by the antics of goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Kahn faces a fine from his club after being seen in a nightclub when he was supposed to be recuperating from injury. The 33 year-old was allegedly in a club in Karlsruhe until 5.30am on Saturday morning, and his thigh injury is one of a number of ailments keeping various members of the first team out of action.
Willy Sagnol and Hasan Salihamidzic are both doubtful to make tonight’s fixture after limping off against Hannover, while Owen Hargreaves joins long term casualties Sebastian Deisler and Roque Santa Cruz and definitely misses out.
Deportivo are of course missing testicular cancer victim and goalkeeper Jose Molina, as well as Juan Carlos Valeron and defender Jorge Andrade.
Lens v Milan
Milan, certain of qualification with a 100 per cent record in the competition so far, will rest key players for the trip to French side Lens.
Alessandro Nesta, Rui Costa, Rivaldo and the prolific Fillipo Inzaghi have been left at home by coach Carlo Ancelotti, but he is keen to point out that his side will still give a competitive game to Lens.
“The team that plays will still be competitive because we want to respect this competition,” assured Ancelotti.
“Even if we have kept some key players at home we are not underestimating the task ahead.”
The San Siro steamroller was finally stopped in its tracks at the weekend, when Milan went down to a shock defeat at Chievo, and Ancelotti is keen for the team to bounce back.
“This game will be important as Champions League is important and we want to make up for our first defeat of the season at Chievo,” he said.
“The mood of the groupis good. It was a slip which can happen in football, but we look ahead without making a fuss.”
Lens, who put themselves back into contention for qualification after last week’s superb 3-1 win over Deportivo, will be looking to emulate that performance with a victory over a weakened Milan side.
Striker Daniel Moreira, scorer of three goals so far in Group G, is wary of the quality Milan can bring in.
“Milan have great strength in depth as the likes of Shevchenko come in to replace Inzaghi, and can produce an excellent game at any time,” he said.
Shevchenko returned to the Milan side in the defeat at Chievo, and got himself on the score sheet, much to his own personal delight.
“I’m really happy about my goal,” said the Ukrainian international, who had been out for two months.
“It was a bad result for the team but scoring a goal is always a boost for my morale.”
He will partner Jan Dahl Tomasson up front for Milan, while Christian Abbiati will play in goal at the expense of Dida.
Recent signing from Chelsea, Sam Dalla Bonna, could play instead of Rui Costa in midfield. Lens only injury worry is over the fitness of Senegalese international midfielder Pape Bouba Diop, who yesterday declared himself a transfer target for Manchester United.
Lens: Warmuz; Coulibaly, Bak, Song, Rool; Bouba Diop, Keita; Coridon, Sibierski, Utaka; Moreira.
Milan: Abbiati; Helveg, Costacurta, Laursen, Maldini; Dalla Bona, Ambrosini, Pirlo, Serginho; Tomasson, Shevchenko.