Bayern can't tango without Ribery and Robben
Without Ribery and Robben, Guardiola's men lose their effervescent edge
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Ricardo Quaresma 3-pen, 10, Jackson Martinez 65)
BAYERN MUNICH 1
(Thiago Alcantara 28)
The favourites have fallen.
Bayern Munich stand on the precipice of an unexpected elimination at the Champions League quarter-final stage.
No one saw the 3-1 first-leg defeat by Porto coming.
Coach Pep Guardiola lamented about the injury crisis that plagued his club - only 14 fit players attended last Friday's training session.
After the loss at the Estadio do Dragao yesterday morning (Singapore time), the Spaniard said: "We have players who were out a long time with injuries... their legs don't last very long."
Bayern took to battle without Javi Martinez, Medhi Benatia, David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, and Arjen Robben.
Club captain Philipp Lahm and Thiago Alcantara, both of whom started, were not match-fit.
Clearly, Guardiola had every reason to gripe.
But, more precisely, it was the absence of Ribery and Robben that was most sorely felt.
For all the star-studded quality of Bayern, these are the two they can't do without.
"Without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, we are a different team," said Guardiola after Bayern overcame Bayer Leverkusen on penalties in the German Cup last week.
"Of course, we have big problems because we have no players for the one-on-one situations."
The lack of leadership, thrust and cutting edge in the final third of the field was evident against Porto.
Robben suffered an abdominal injury in late March. The 31-year-old Dutchman is close to a return, although he said on Tuesday that he still couldn't go to the toilet without feeling pain.
Few players can run with the ball as gracefully as Robben. Add to his dribbling skills a precise shot, and you know just what Bayern were missing.
SCORED 17 GOALS
Despite starting just 20 of the 28 Bundesliga games Bayern have played, he has scored 17 goals, only two behind Bundesliga leading scorer Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt, and one more than Bayern's own target man Robert Lewandowski.
Ribery's season, on the other hand, has been punctured by a series of misfortunes.
The 32-year-old playmaker's latest complaint is an ankle injury that he just couldn't shake off completely.
Ribery is the conductor of Bayern's orchestra. He controls the flow and dictates the movement. His presence makes those around him sparkle.
His influence in the Bayern side can be gauged from their results whenever the Frenchman started this season.
In 15 matches (in all competitions), the Bavarian giants have won 13, drawn one and lost one.
Statistics also show that Bayern's fight at Porto was an uphill one to begin with.
Without Robben and Ribery in the starting line-up, including the Porto game, they have won just five times, drawing four times and losing twice on the other six occasions.
Bayern have it all to do to overcome a two-goal deficit in the second leg at the Allianz Arena next week.
The game might have come too soon for Robben, who began his rehabilitation training only a few days ago. Ribery, though, stands a better chance of returning. Guardiola must be praying for a speedy recovery.
Bayern's Champions League fate is resting on them.
"Those two are the players who really make the difference. Bayern have compensated for their absence superbly in the Bundesliga, but it’s important that both of them return in the Champions League."
- Former Bayern Munich utility man Hasan Salihamidzic
Guardiola: We won't give up
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola insists his side are not going to raise the white flag and accept elimination from the Champions League without a fight in the second leg of their quarter-final tie with Porto.
Bayern will need to overturn a 3-1 deficit if they are to claim a fourth straight semi-final appearance after suffering a shock defeat in Portugal yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The German giants - European champions in 2013 and runners-up in 2012 and 2010 - were missing several key players through injury but did not help themselves as Porto capitalised on poor defending for all three of their goals.
All is not yet lost, however, with Guardiola as well as the club's director of sport Matthias Sammer refusing to throw in the towel.
"It's a complicated result, but we'll try to recover with our fans behind us in the return leg and we're not going to give up so quickly," Guardiola said on his club's website.
"I'm not totally unhappy with my team. We tried everything. It's just not easy. Porto are a physically strong team and the third goal hit us."
Sammer added: "It's frustrating and we've got to shake ourselves up a bit.
"If you want to be a big club, then you've got to be able to put these things behind you.
"We need to get at least two goals at home, but we're full of optimism. We need a top performance, and we're capable of that."
Bayern will also be hoping for some good news from the treatment room over the next six days, with a long list of star names currently where Guardiola does not want to see them.
Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Medhi Benatia, David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger all missed the trip to Portugal.
But it is unlikely any of them will be back for the return next Tuesday, with Bayern's biggest goal of the season looking in real danger.
"It wouldn't be the first time for us to win a game at home," said Thomas Mueller. "We're optimistic, but we also know we've got a lot to do. We've not made it easy for ourselves."
Porto coach Julen Lopetegui was determined to keep his players' feet firmly on the ground after the win.
The result has given the Portuguese club more than a fighting chance to reach the semi-finals but Lopetegui believes the toughest part of their challenge lies ahead with the return trip to Munich.
TO THE LIMIT
"It was a game played to the limit against one of the best teams in history," the Spaniard told the club's official website.
"We got a fair reward in winning the match, for our good performance, but this was just the first half and there's still the hardest to play for in Munich.
"Nothing is settled. There is a long path ahead."
However, Lopetegui feels his team can be proud of what they achieved on the night.
He said: "The team did great, both in attack and defence.
"They were ambitious and had the capacity and the awareness needed to wait for the right time and take it.
"We knew it would have to be like this, that we would have to go to our limits to be able to compete with a team such as this, led by one of the best coaches of our times."
- PA Sport.