Pep Guardiola starts his swansong as Bayern Munich coach on Friday at Hamburg with his team running away with an historic fourth Bundesliga crown and eyeing a hat-trick of titles.
Having said he wants to coach in England next season, Guardiola’s three-year tenure will ultimately be measured in Munich by whether he can repeat his predecessor Jupp Heynckes’ feat of winning the treble of Champions League, German Cup and Bundesliga titles in 2013.
Bayern have won the German league title for the last three seasons and are bidding to become the first team to win four straight Bundesliga titles.
They have also reached the quarter-finals of the German Cup, but the Champions League will be the acid test having been knocked out at the semi-final stage of Europe for the last two years running under Guardiola.
Bayern return from the Bundesliga’s winter break eight points clear in the table, but Guardiola knows his reign will be judged by whether or not his side reach the Champions League final on May 28 in Milan.
“I know people want us to win the Champions League and if we don’t manage it, we will have failed,” Guardiola has said.
Bayern kick off the second half of the season against mid-table Hamburg, who are waiting on the fitness of striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who has a shoulder injury, and captain Johan Djourou (knee).
Hamburg last beat Bayern back in September 2009 and Bruno Labbadia’s team were winless in their last three league games of 2015.
Despite winning their last two previous meetings 5-0 and 8-0 in Munich, Bayern have struggled to leave Hamburg with three points of late and in their last five games at the Volksparkstadion they have only won twice.
With second-placed Borussia Dortmund facing a tough trip to Moenchengladbach on Saturday night, Bayern want to extend their lead and are at full strength.
– ‘Hamburg will fight’ –
“We have to give it everything right until the end (of the season), regardless of how many points clear we are,” said striker Robert Lewandowski who has scored 16 goals in 15 league games so far.
“Right now the gap is eight points, but we’re not champions yet.
“Everything can change.
“We’ll be fighting with Borussia Dortmund up until the final game. That’s good for us, too.
“This year we want to win the Bundesliga and the Champions League with Guardiola, but Hamburg will fight and want to show their fans how good they are and we must be patient.”
Hamburg can take some hope after Bayern lost 2-1 at second-division Karlsruhe on Saturday in a friendly after centre-back Jerome Boateng was sent off in the second half.
“We’re just about to re-start the Bundesliga and we’re not ready,” admitted the Germany defender.
Dortmund face a tough task at resurgent Gladbach, who are looking to avenge their 4-0 thrashing by Thomas Tuchel’s side at the start of the season.
Under new coach Andre Schubert, Monchengladbach are unbeaten in their last seven league games at home, including their 3-1 drubbing of Bayern last month — Munich’s only defeat of the season in Germany’s top flight.
“We’re ready and determined to win the game,” said Gladbach’s Guinea winger Ibrahima Traore.
“We know about the quality of Dortmund, but we are playing at Borussia Park and want to show that we deserve to be up the table.”
After one of the best season’s so far in the club’s history, third-placed Hertha Berlin host mid-table Augsburg with Pal Dardai’s side having so far amassed 32 points — only three less than they achieved for the whole of last season.
Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless stated)
Hamburg v Bayern Munich (1930)
Cologne v VfB Stuttgart, Hanover 96 v Darmstadt, Hertha Berlin v Augsburg, Hoffenheim v Bayer Leverkusen, Ingolstadt v Mainz, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Borussia Dortmund (1730)
Eintracht Frankfurt v Wolfsburg, Schalke 04 v Werder Bremen (1630)
– Agence France-Presse