By Karolos Grohmann
Bayern Munich go into their Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday (9.45pm) knowing the game will make or break their season.
Bayern are runaway Bundesliga leaders and also reached the German Cup quarter-finals last week, but anything short of lifting Europe’s biggest club crown will be considered a failure for Germany’s wealthiest team.
“This match is a final for us,” coach Pep Guardiola told reporters after Bayern’s 3-1 win at Hanover 96 in the league on Saturday. “Only one thing matters and that is to win.
“We know what we have to do. They (Shakhtar) have extremely quick forwards and we cannot allow them to make their runs,” said the Spaniard.
Bayern, five-time European champions, need to win to advance over 90 minutes, with a score draw sending the Ukrainians through after their goalless first leg last month.
The Bavarians are still odds-on favourites to progress, having won all their previous home games in the group stage this season without conceding a goal.
Bayern’s domestic form has been equally impressive, having scored an eye-popping 21 goals in their last four league games.
“Against many opponents it is us who are the favourites and that is justified,” said captain Philipp Lahm, who will miss the game after breaking his ankle late last year.
“So it is also up to us and our own performances to make sure we can count ourselves among the top teams or not,” he told Kicker magazine. “Bayern have to advance because we want to belong to Europe’s elite.”
Guardiola will be without the experienced Xabi Alonso, who is suspended after his red card in the first leg, but he could have defender Medhi Benatia, back from injury, in the squad.
The odds are stacked against Shakhtar, whose season only started at the end of last month, said coach Mircea Lucescu.
“We will be playing against a very strong club. In my opinion Bayern are the world’s strongest football team at the moment,” the Romanian said.
“We have to respond to their extraordinary tactical discipline with equally strong tactical discipline.”
He said the Ukrainians were at a disadvantage with their league only just underway.
“They have an advantage on us on that matter. Their team is also superior to ours, but football does not follow logical rules. In football, anything can happen,” he said.
Defensive midfielder Taras Stepanenko is back following suspension for Shakhtar who are unbeaten in seven straight games in all competitions.