Guardiola eager to break Spanish semi curse


Pep Guardiola insists Bayern Munich can make it third time lucky against Spanish opposition in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final return leg with Atletico Madrid at the Allianz Arena.

Atletico come to Munich holding a slender lead after Saul Niguez’s early solo strike in last Wednesday’s first leg sealed Madrid’s 1-0 home win.

Guardiola, who will coach Manchester City next season, wants to sign off in Munich by winning a sixth European title with Bayern in the Champions League final in Milan on May 28.

Bayern’s head coach could finish his third and final year in Munich with the treble.

The Bavarian giants are set to win a fourth consecutive German league title on Saturday away to Ingolstadt and face rivals Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final on May 21.

But the Champions League title is the one both Guardiola and Bayern crave, especially after the failed semi-final attempts of the last two years.

In 2014, Bayern were routed 4-0 in Munich by Real Madrid, when Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo both netted twice, after the Bavarians had lost the first leg 1-0 at the Bernabeu.

In last year’s semi, Lionel Messi tore the Bayern defence apart in the second-half in the first-leg in Barcelona.

He scored two goals, then created one for Neymar, in Barcelona’s 3-0 win at the Camp Nou, before Bayern bowed out despite winning the return leg 3-2 in Munich.

“It’s the third semi-final in a row. It’s very important to reach the final, but it was just as important as against Real and Barcelona when we didn’t manage it,” said Guardiola.

“Against Real, we didn’t have Ronaldo, (Gareth) Bale, (Karim) Benzema or (Angel) Di Maria under control.

“Against Barcelona, we weren’t ready, we only had 14 available players, but we’re ready for tomorrow and it will be a different game.”

Guardiola insists his side has improved since their home debacle against Madrid two years ago.

“We learnt from the game against Real,” said the 45-year-old.

“We have only conceded 15 goals in the Bundesliga this season and have not allowed many goal chances.

“What I have noticed in my time here is that we can defend very well high up the pitch and not just in the penalty area.”

Bayern need at least a goal — and must stop Atletico from scoring — to keep their dreams of reaching a fourth Champions League final in seven years.

Guardiola is still smarting from the German media’s criticism from the first leg.

He left Thomas Mueller, Bayern’s all-time top scorer in European football, on the bench and the Germany star is set to start on Tuesday.

“We need our best performance to reach the final,” said Guardiola.

“We must not think about how many goals we have to score, first we need to defend well and control the game.

“We did not win or lose because Thomas Mueller wasn’t there (in the first leg), and tomorrow we will not win or lose because Thomas is or isn’t there.”

Guardiola implied centre-back Jerome Boateng will start.

The Germany centre-back played for an hour in Saturday’s 1-1 league draw with Borussia Moenchengladbach after 99 days out with a groin injury.

French winger Franck Ribery, who picked up a back injury last Friday, is also an option.

“I don’t know if Jerome’s fit for 120 minutes, I’ll know that if he plays the 90 minutes,” said Guardiola.

“I can only judge that myself tomorrow, he’s only had three days to regenerate for the game, so we’ll have to see how he is.

“Ribery is fit and he is one more option for us.”

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