For 10 of Manuel Pellegrini’s players, the Allianz Arena will be a fascinating experience – a game against the European champions with not too much riding on the outcome. For Joe Hart, it will be the Colosseum.
Any gladiator with Bayern Munich’s record of 24 wins and two draws this season would long ago have been given his freedom. Should Hart perform to the limits of his considerable ability, his return as Manchester City’s goalkeeper might be near. Should he be humiliated, as Werder Bremen’s goalkeeper was humbled in his own stadium, it would be hard to see where his career could go.
After Raphael Wolf had conceded his seventh goal at the Weserstadion on Saturday Bremen’s coach, Robin Dutt, remarked that Bayern Munich were indisputably the best team in the world. With Barcelona deprived of Lionel Messi and Real Madrid trailing behind Atletico, there is no reason to doubt him.
“For Joe this is a very important game,” Pellegrini said on Monday. “Not because of the past but because of the future. I trust him.” However, that was the only backing the City manager was prepared to give the man who, despite everything, is still in line to keep goal for England against Italy in Manaus in June. He insisted, somewhat bizarrely, that a press conference was not the right forum in which to discuss Hart’s future.
Given that Pellegrini will naturally prioritise Saturday’s Premier League encounter with Arsenal, Hart will have reduced cover. Gaël Clichy did not travel because of a foot injury while Matija Nastasic has also remained in Manchester. This is Bayern’s final week of the domestic season before they travel to Morocco for the World Club Championship and then to Qatar for their winter break. They aim to say goodbye to their miracle year of 2013 in style.
City have insisted they are not in the market for a goalkeeper in next month’s transfer window. When reports they were prepared to bid €48m (£40m) for Manuel Neuer were put to Pep Guardiola, the Bayern coach laughed. “No chance,” was his reply.
If City win here by three goals, they will top the group and avoid a menu as unappetising as any bushtucker trial in I’m a Celebrity – a round-of-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain, Real or Atletico Madrid or Barcelona.
However, Bayern, who could become the sixth team to win all their group games, were gently warned by Guardiola: “I hope my players understand how important this game is for us,” he said. “Finishing second is not an option for Bayern Munich.”
Second will do City fine, not least because in Pellegrini they have a manager who has steered them through the group. “Thank God we have already achieved our target of the knockout stages,” said defender Martin Demichelis, who played for Bayern in the days when they could be held to a 2-2 draw at home by Bolton.
“Manuel has shown what he can do with Malaga [whom he took to the quarter-finals]. We are on the right path.”