Perhaps hoping to avoid any sort of lackadaisical effort, it seems only natural that Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola would increase the pressure on Thursday’s Champions League second leg with Shakhtar Donetsk at Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich are comfortably ahead in their pursuit of yet another domestic league title and cup, maintaining a seemingly unsurmountable 11-point lead in Bundesliga, so Guardiola decided to inject a sense of urgency within a squad that assuredly remembers the 5-0 aggregate letdown in last year’s semifinals to Real Madrid.
"This match is a final for us," Guardiola said to reporters following Munich’s 3-1 victory over Hannover on Saturday. "Only one thing matters and that is to win. We know what we have to do. They have extremely quick forwards and we cannot allow them to make their runs."
Both sides failed to score in the first leg on Feb. 17, a disappointing finish for Munich largely attributable to midfielder Xabi Alonso’s dismissal in the 65th minute. Munich were in control throughout the match, and even with a man down kept a 64-36 possession advantage while holding Shakhtar to a singular shot on goal.
Alonso will have to sit out because of that fateful red card, but it’s not like Guardiola has limited options at midfield with Mario Gotze, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robert Lewandowski more than capable of supplanting the Spanish star’s production. Gotze and Lewandowski are both enjoying stellar terms, with the former notching nine goals and two assists, and Lewandowski matching Thomas Muller’s 11 goals.
It’s that kind of frightful and deep attack that’s afforded Munich 66 goals and only one loss in Bundesliga play, and with six victories in their last seven matches in all competitions.
Shakhtar and manager Mircea Lucescu have also enjoyed an excellent stretch in the Ukrainian Premier League, capturing five wins in their last seven matches for second-place on the table.
Yet despite their recent domestic success, and how well they stunted Munich in the first leg, Lucescu is quite aware of the dangers that lay ahead.
"We will be playing against a very strong club. In my opinion, Bayern are the world's strongest football team at the moment," Lucescu said. "We have to respond to therir extraordinary tactical discipline with equally strong tactical discipline."
Lucescu also wouldn’t rule out his club’s determination, or the fact that Munich, and any other team for that matter, are sometimes subject to matters they have little control over.
"Their team is also superior to ours, but football does not follow logical rules. In football, anything can happen." Shakhtar’s attack is once again led by Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano, who’s already totaled nine goals and an assist in six Champions League stars this year. Midfielder Alex Teixeira is next up with three goals.
But perhaps the biggest task will fall on Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov. The 20-year-old has tallied 23 saves in seven Champions League starts.
Kickoff Time: 3:45 P.M. EST
TV Channel: Fox Soccer 2
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available via FoxSoccer2go here
Prediction: Bayern Munich over Shakhtar, 3-0