• Bayern short at the back as Juve match looms

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    BERLIN: Pep Guardiola acknowledges Bayern Munich has a height problem ahead of their key Champions League clash at Juventus as an injury crisis has left them short at the back — literally.

    While striker Robert Lewandowski is head and shoulders above his rivals, scoring twice in Sunday’s 3-1 win at Augsburg, injuries meant Bayern fielded a back four with an average height of under five foot nine inches (1.75m).

    “Every team in the world is stronger in the header than we are. It’s not an ideal situation,” complained Guardiola ahead of next Tuesday’s Champions League clash in Turin.

    Guardiola has been stripped of center-backs after Holger Badstuber fractured an ankle in training last Saturday, while Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng are sidelined long-term by knee and groin injuries.

    Boateng has said he is on target to meet his goal of returning to training in April, “but I won’t set a date to put myself under pressure”, while Badstuber is now out of hospital after surgery, but is not expected to play again this season.

    “It’s a big shock for me, but I can promise everyone I will return,” said Badstuber after suffering his fourth serious injury since December 2012.

    Medhi Benatia is returning from injury, while loan signing Serdar Tasci is lacking conditioning after joining from Spartak Moscow and was concussed in his first training session.

    Without a single fit center-back, Guardiola used Juan Bernat (1.72m) and Philipp Lahm (1.70m) as wing-backs against Augsburg with left-back David Alaba (1.80m) and defensive midfielder Joshua Kimmich (1.74m) paired up at center-back.

    In attack, Bayern are scoring goals for fun through two giants of the game.

    Lewandowski has 21 goals in 20 league games with 31 in all competitions, while Thomas Mueller has also hit 15 league goals in a total from 22.

    But Bayern’s bosses are concerned about the height of Juve’s key forwards Mario Mandzukic (1.87m), Alvaro Morata (1.90m) and Paulo Dybala (1.77m), especially from corners and set piece situations.

    “Then we’ll just have to stop them jumping higher,” joked Bayern’s director of sport Matthias Sammer.

    “They’ll have to make their presence felt for crosses, but Philipp, Joshua or Juan are all incredibly savvy.”

    Bayern are desperate to celebrate Guardiola’s departure for Manchester City with silverware after exiting the Champions League at the semi-finals stage for the last two seasons under the Spaniard’s steerage.

    But their injury situation could be a blessing in disguise as Guardiola’s current back four are all fleet-footed and have their team-mates’ trust.

    Mueller needs no convincing.

    “They are all strong in the tackle, dedicated, fast and have everything you need, maybe except the size of a classic central defender,” added the Germany forward.

    Bayern host mid-table Darmstadt on Saturday, then Juventus on Tuesday, before two key away German league matches as they look to protect their eight-point lead at Wolfsburg, on February 27, and second-placed Borussia Dortmund on March 5.

    AFP

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