Pep Guardiola’s reaction following Bayern Munich’s 4-0 loss at home to Real Madrid last week (5-0 on aggregate) was a call for more. No need to change, Bayern just need more. More possession; more of that tiki-taka stuff Philipp Lahm dismissed as never being a part of Bayern’s culture; more Guardiola.
The Catalan coach isn’t on the brink of departing the Allianz Arena. Not quite. Where in the past Louis van Gaal struggled and was eventually moved on for his abandoning of defensive reason, Guardiola, with similar faults, is being backed to improve next season. Moreover, in his first season in charge, Pep has been far from a failure or disappointment.
We often struggle to grasp the bigger picture. Guardiola won’t replicate the treble success of Jupp Heynckes last season, but he has already delivered the Bundesliga title in record time and may add to it with the German Cup next weekend. The bigger picture here is that Bayern are still champions. The bigger picture is that up until the point where they won the league title, Bayern were imperious. The bigger picture is that Guardiola has a myriad of ideas which he is still to implement and perfect at the club. He’s making adjustments, he’ll bring in new players and he’s learnt the hard way. All of this while keeping Bayern the best club in Germany.
There were obvious flaws to Bayern’s game in their two losses to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals. As good as he is – and these defeats aren’t a confirmation that he’s a bad coach or that he had it easy up until now – Guardiola did make tactical errors.
The obvious is in placing Lahm in midfield to ensure his side dominated possession. While they did that, there wasn’t an able body at right-back to combat the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Another is the ludicrously high line Guardiola has adopted with two centre-backs who aren’t quick enough to play in that kind of system. Don’t let this season fool you, Dante is a good centre-back; he was excellent last season throughout. But he’s clearly not quick enough to handle a defensive line that more or less stands on the halfway line.
The final is in Bayern’s lack of penetration and creative nous in the final third. Mario Mandzukic – or a player like him – has a purpose in Guardiola’s team; remember all that discussion about needing a Plan B while at Barcelona? But Mario Goetze was the player who should have been involved against Real Madrid from the off. The German resembles Lionel Messi much more than a player like Mandzukic.
All this means is that Guardiola will have another crack at it. There will be changes at Bayern this summer, high-profile changes, because quite clearly there are players in this team who can’t adapt to this tiki-taka style.
The fallout of Bayern’s loss to Real Madrid saw a damning verdict on Guardiola’s style of football. It’s been a long-running theme, though one that has remained below the surface until now: people, inexplicably, find Guardiola’s teams boring. Those losses against Real Madrid just gave them the ammunition they needed.
I don’t get it. We don’t want the unimaginative – which funnily is also boring – and we don’t want the adventurous, the musician who needs an extra disc on his latest record because there’s no room for the 25-minute album closer.
What is also quite amusing is that those who oppose Guardiola’s thinking would still love to see him either at their own club or just anywhere closer to home at another in the Premier League.
Guardiola’s football is complex, with lots of constantly moving pieces. It’s also proved to be a winning formula, both in domestic competition and in Europe. This 5-0 aggregate loss doesn’t take away Guardiola’s four league titles, two domestic cups (with another possibly on the way), two European Cups, and a total of nine Super Cups and Club World Cups.
He was lucky that players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi were available to him during his time at Barcelona, and let’s not forget how important the defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol were (and Victor Valdes and Sergio Busquets, and so on). But it is a system that can be transported elsewhere and used with different individuals, though they do have to be the right individuals, as Bayern are proving.
What is important to note is that ideas eventually do take on setbacks, as Barcelona found against Inter Milan in 2010 and Bayern last year, and as the Bavarians have done now. The opposite of Guardiola is Jose Mourinho, who was a genius after engineering away wins at Manchester City and Liverpool, but completely flawed following losses to Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Atletico Madrid, and whoever else. The ideas still work when executed properly. We’re not at a stage where one set of footballing principles is unbeatable.
Louis van Gaal will go to Manchester United, probably for a period of two years (not only because van Gaal works in short periods, but because United will want to hold back on handing out five or 6-year contracts after the last one). After that, Guardiola’s football may be up for grabs; he, too, has in the past confirmed his desire to work to short contracts.
Tiki-taka’s setback isn’t one it can’t get back up from. You wonder how much support Guardiola would have from England if and when he finally brings his product to the Premier League. The cult-like followers would finally see their hero hit the mainstream airwaves.