BERLIN (AP) - Pep Guardiola’s dream of leading Bayern Munich to the treble for a perfect farewell from his last season in charge is in jeopardy because of a spate of injuries in the defense.
Holger Badstuber is the latest, after the Germany center back broke his ankle in an innocuous training ground accident on Saturday. Badstuber underwent surgery on the same day.
Bayern said he will be out for three months, effectively ending his season and almost certainly ruling him out of the European Championship in France. Bayern captain Philipp Lahm needed four months to recover from a similar injury last season.
Badstuber joined Germany defender Jerome Boateng and Spain international Javi Martinez on the sidelines, leaving Guardiola with a major headache before the trip to Turin for the Champions League round of 16 first-leg match against Italian league leader Juventus.
Despite leading Bayern to the Bundesliga in both of his seasons so far, Guardiola arguably needs to win the Champions League for his tenure to be seen as a success, especially after predecessor Jupp Heynckes signed off with the Champions League, Bundesliga, and German Cup titles in 2013.
Injuries have been a recurrent theme since Guardiola took over, leading to ongoing friction with Bayern’s medical staff. With a long list of stars regularly injured, team doctor Volker Braun reportedly blamed the former Barcelona coach for rushing players back.
Guardiola fell out with Braun’s predecessor, Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, in similar circumstances in April 2014, when the Bayern doctor quit after 38 years at the club. Despite his resignation, Bayern’s players have continued to see the 73-year-old Mueller-Wohlfahrt for treatment.
Bayern is eight points clear in the Bundesliga, where it is looking good for an unprecedented fourth successive title, and it has a home semifinal against Werder Bremen in the German Cup. But it is in the Champions League that the toughest tests await, as Guardiola knows well following comprehensive semifinal defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
No matter how strong Bayern is in attack, the side will need competent defenders when facing the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Co.
First, Bayern will need to face in-form Juventus forwards Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata, and familiar face Mario Mandzukic, who played his part in helping Heynckes win the treble in 2013. Bayern plays Massimiliano Allegri’s side away on Feb. 23 before the return leg in Munich on March 16.
Defender Mehdi Benatia is yet to return from injury, Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso can be caught for pace, and the 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich, who has been filling in for recent games, is short on experience.
Kimmich lined up alongside left back David Alaba in central defense against Augsburg on Sunday, but they had little to do with Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller, and Arjen Robben keeping the home side busy at the other end in a 3-1 win.
None of Bayern’s back four of Lahm, Kimmich, Alaba or Juan Bernat was taller than 1.8 meters (5-foot-11), indicating a possible weakness when dealing with corners or crosses.
“Then they’re going to have to jump higher,” Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer joked.
With injuries already mounting, Bayern snapped up former Stuttgart and Germany defender Serdar Tasci on loan from Spartak Moscow on the last day of the winter transfer window as cover, only for the notion of a curse among defenders to be strengthened when he was concussed after colliding with a teammate in his first training session. Tasci missed his scheduled presentation press conference and is yet to feature for the side.
Boateng is out for several months with a groin injury, while Martinez was ruled out for four weeks after undergoing surgery to remove damaged cartilage in his left knee in early February.
Their injuries increased Badstuber’s importance despite his own relative lack of match practice. He was back in action only since November after 200 days out with a left hamstring injury that forced him to miss the end of last season.
Badstuber has been dubbed a “Pechvogel” - literally a bad-luck bird - suggesting he suffers from a jinx or a curse as a result of his recurring injuries. He missed nearly two years with knee injuries.
His misfortune began on Dec. 1, 2012, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing against Borussia Dortmund, only 11 days after he returned from a torn thigh muscle. He returned from the knee injury only to suffer a second tear as he made his comeback. Badstuber then tore a tendon in his thigh at the start of last season, before suffering the left hamstring injury last April.
Since the first serious knee injury, Badstuber has made only 17 Bundesliga appearances in 39 months. He missed Bayern’s Champions League triumph in 2013 as well as Germany’s World Cup win in 2014.
“Once a fighter, always a fighter. Think positive. Now more than ever!” Badstuber tweeted on Saturday, suggesting he isn’t ready to throw in the towel.
Badstuber has received encouragement from Germany coach Joachim Loew, who suggested he could return yet again.
“I’m certain that he’ll manage it with his morale and with his top attitude,” Loew said. “It’s unbelievable that Holger is always hit with serious injuries. It’s very bitter. He was on the right path.”
Bayern fans agree. In teeming rain in Augsburg on Sunday, they held a banner saying, “Keep going! Never give up, Holger.”
Bayern’s fill-in defenders will need the same spirit to overcome the tough tests ahead. Guardiola’s legacy at Bayern depends on it.
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