Berlin: Bayern Munich hope to have star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer back for Friday’s Bundesliga game at strugglers Augsburg, their final tune-up before next week’s crunch Uefa Champions League clash away to Liverpool.
Neuer, 32, has sat out Bayern’s last three games with a thumb injury but is set to prove his fitness at Augsburg ahead of Tuesday’s last-16, first leg against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at Anfield.
“Manuel has not had any negative reaction, so he’s an option for Friday again,” Bayern head coach Niko Kovac said on Wednesday.
Neuer is confident he will face Liverpool, telling ESPN: “I think I’ll be between the posts. I am doing well, it’s not so bad.”
However, Kovac is wary of rushing him back too soon, especially given Neuer’s history after fracturing his foot twice in quick succession in 2017 which saw him miss most of last season.
“Manuel is an ambitious goalkeeper,” said Kovac of the 2014 World Cup winner.
“It was his decision alone to not play in certain games — the player always has the last word and in this case, Manuel is ready.”
Kovac has virtually a full-strength squad to choose from at Augsburg with only Arjen Robben and Corentin Tolisso still sidelined by injury.
Second-placed Bayern’s 3-1 home win against Schalke last weekend trimmed the gap to five points behind Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, who threw away a three-goal lead in a 3-3 draw with Hoffenheim.
Kovac and Bayern will target a ninth league win in 10 outings at Augsburg to maintain the pressure on Dortmund, who play bottom side Nuremberg away on Monday.
Augsburg, who have recruited ex-Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann as assistant coach, were hammered 4-0 by Werder Bremen at the weekend to leave them just above the relegation places.
“The league title will be won in defence, I’d hope we win the game on Friday and, if possible, prevent them from scoring,” said Kovac.
“We have no reason to spare anyone in Augsburg.
“We have enough time to recover and we don’t want to underestimate the game, because this is a chance to really get into the Bundesliga race.
“This game is important to create a bit of atmosphere,” added Kovac.
Liverpool will host Bayern having had 10 days off since their last match, Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Bournemouth, but Kovac says their opponents’ break could be an advantage for the Germans.
“We are playing against Liverpool who were in the final last year and have spent a bit more money than we have,” said Kovac, referring to Liverpool’s high-profile signings of goalkeeper Alisson, and midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho.
“It’s two top teams — little things, and a bit of luck, will decide the game.
“It’s no bad thing if Liverpool get a few days’ rest — it’ll mean they will lose their rhythm.”
Augsburg v Bayern Munich (11.30pm)
Schalke v Freiburg, Hoffenheim v Hanover 96, Stuttgart v RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg v Mainz, Hertha Berlin v Werder Bremen (all 9.30pm)
Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen v Fortuna Duesseldorf (all 9pm)
Nuremberg v Borussia Dortmund (11.30pm)