Bayern boss wary of ‘wishful thinking’ in Europe
Bayern Munich have again qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League, but head coach Jupp Heynckes admits any aspirations of finishing top of their group are “wishful thinking”.
Javi Martinez’s late header put Bayern into the Champions League knockout phase for the tenth season in a row by sealing a 2-1 win over Celtic at Parkhead on Tuesday.
“The priority was to reach the knockout stages, which we did, everything else is wishful thinking. It’s going to be difficult to finish in first place,” said Heynckes.
“With the 3-0 win in the first leg, Paris Saint-Germain have a huge advantage.”
Both Bayern and leaders PSG are guaranteed to progress from Group B following Tuesday’s results, as the French giants trounced Anderlecht 5-0 in Paris.
PSG have a perfect four wins from four games with 17 goals scored and none conceded, including the 3-0 rout of Bayern at the Parc de Princes in September which cost Heynckes’s predecessor Carlo Ancelotti his job.
If Bayern win at Anderlecht in three weeks’ time, and PSG also beat Celtic at home, December’s final round of matches will see the Germans host the Parisians in a showdown at the Allianz Arena.
In that scenario, Heynckes knows that only a 4-0 win over PSG would be good enough to see Bayern top the group and potentially avoid a more difficult last-16 opponent.
– Heynckes impact –
The win at Celtic was achieved without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, who was sidelined by a thigh injury.
In his absence, attacking midfielder James Rodriguez played out of position up front as Kingsley Coman gave Bayern a first-half lead after a mix-up in the Celtic defence.
Callum McGregor equalised for Celtic in the second half, only for a bloodied Martinez to restore Bayern’s lead 13 minutes from time.
“That wasn’t our best game, but it was our third match in six days. We were effective,” said veteran Arjen Robben, referring to Bayern’s cup and league wins last week over RB Leipzig.
Bayern are unbeaten in the 72-year-old Heynckes’s six games in charge.
In the Bundesliga, they are three points clear at the top of the table ahead of Borussia Dortmund, whom they travel to on Saturday.
“We’re ahead, we have won everything with the new coach,” added Robben.
Heynckes has put Bayern back on track in the four weeks since he took over for a fourth stint.
The upcoming clash at Dortmund and next month’s Champions League tie against PSG are Bayern’s main tests before Christmas.
Heynckes has instilled discipline in the Bayern dressing room, which Ancelotti had lost, and has regular one-on-one meetings to explain decisions and motivate his players.
He speaks Spanish with Rodriguez to help the Colombian settle in Munich following his loan move from Real Madrid and is nurturing stand-in goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, the man tasked with the considerable job of filling in for Manuel Neuer.
However, by their own admission Bayern need cover for Lewandowski.
“It would be nice if I had a little more rest,” Lewandowski told Kicker magazine this week.
“No player can play 90 minutes, every three days over a whole season.”
His point was proven at Celtic where teenager Manuel Wintzheimer was hastily promoted from the Under-19s as the only striker in the senior squad.
“Robert Lewandowski is never injured,” said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge last year to justify not having a second centre-forward in the squad.
The Polish striker missed just one Champions League game last season — the crucial quarter-final home tie against Real Madrid where Bayern lost 2-1 before being eliminated following a 4-2 extra-time defeat in Madrid.
Bayern will use the winter break to search for some back-up for Lewandowski.
“But we are not going to buy a player in a hurry,” said director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic.
“We’ll need to find a forward who can advance the team while being able to double for Lewandowski.”
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