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Robben raring to go
Bayern are back on top of the Bundesliga, and are now keen to continue re-establishing their credentials at the top table of the European game. Coach Louis van Gaal and his men were in confident mood when they set off on Tuesday for the Champions League quarter-final return leg away to Manchester United. “Making the semi-finals would be a tremendous achievement, but elite sportspeople always want to win everything,” Van Gaal told the pre-match news conference at the team hotel, the Marriott Worsley Park Country Club, located around half an hour from United’s Old Trafford home.

“The Bundesliga title is the priority for the club and for us, but if you’re within sight of a semi-final, you’ve got to believe in your chance. And we believe in ourselves,” declared Mark van Bommel. Making the last four at the expense of a leading English and European club of the calibre of United would rate as Bayern’s biggest success on the European stage since winning the competition nine years ago. Munich have not progressed further than the quarter-finals since then.

Same plan as for Fiorentina

Bayern are in the same going-in position against the Manchester giants as they were four weeks ago in the Round of 16 against Fiorentina. In both ties, Munich netted late to win the home leg 2-1. The 3-2 defeat away to Fiorentina was enough to see FCB through on away goals. Wednesday’s Old Trafford clash is almost certain to be just as close. “It’ll be a demanding and difficult match, but the team should be looking forward to it,” commented chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

The players were cautiously optimistic on Tuesday lunchtime as they boarded the Lufthansa flight to Manchester. “The first leg was important because it showed we can beat United,” Jörg Butt said. Van Gaal has described the Premier League champions as a “Level 1” European club. The Red Devils, semi-finalists for the last three seasons, won the Champions League in 2008, and lost last year’s final to Barcelona. “But we showed what we’re capable of at home, and now we intend to confirm it,” stated Hamit Altintop.

Tight and solid

Butt described the 2-1 win eight days ago at the Allianz Arena as a “decent result to take with us”. Thomas Müller felt there was a “50-50 chance” of FCB making the last four. Rummenigge agreed that the position was better than he could have expected before kick-off in the first leg, but insisted that United “hold the better cards.” Van Gaal also named the home side as favourites, as a 1-0 win would be enough for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to make the semis. “I’m curious to see how it goes, and I have great faith in our team,” said Rummenigge.

Bayern will need to be rock-solid at the back on Wednesday. “We can’t afford mistakes. You’re brutally punished for errors in the Champions League,” warned Butt, calling for maximum concentration. FCB are determined to avoid the nightmare start they made to the first meeting, when Wayne Rooney opened the scoring after just 64 seconds. “That mustn’t happen again,” said Arjen Robben.

Van Buyten at 75 percent

On the eve of the game, the Dutch winger said he was “ready” to feature. “I’m thinking positively, and I reckon I’ll be able to play tomorrow.” A decision on Robben’s fitness will be left until after the final training session at Old Trafford, a situation which also applies to Daniel van Buyten. The Belgian took a knock below the knee against Schalke on Saturday, describing the injury as “still painful” and his state of health as “75 percent” before the squad’s departure from Munich.

In any case, Robben and Van Buyten stand a decent chance of playing some part in proceedings. Local hopes in Manchester of a stunning comeback from injury by leading scorer Wayne Rooney nosedived on Tuesday when Ferguson said the England international had “no chance” of starting the match, “but maybe he’ll persuade me to give him a seat among the subs.” The loss of Rooney altogether would be a setback for the Premier League champions, although Van Bommel put the whole issue into perspective: “United are not just Rooney. And he was playing when we beat them.”

The value of an away goal

Van Gaal will order his men to play their usual football at Old Trafford. “That’s when we’re at our best,” agreed Van Bommel. Doing nothing but defend is not the current Bayern way. Rummenigge is hoping the visitors can “hit United on the break. It would be wonderful if we managed to score.” And the earlier, the better. “It’s going to need 110 percent, and every player is ready to give just that,” declared Müller.

The Old Trafford marketing section likes to refer to the famous stadium as the Theatre of Dreams – and Bayern are adamant that their own trophy dreams will still be alive after the final whistle. “I’m thrilled to be part of this match,” said Müller, “and I hope I still am afterwards.” Holger Badstuber reckons the Germany starlet has no need to worry: “We’ll definitely get through!” Whatever, in all their long history, Bayern have yet to lose at Old Trafford.
 
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