Is Pep Guardiola a Bayern failure after Champions League semi exit yet again?
Robbie Purves | May 4, 2016
Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich without the Champions League trophy he desperately craved during his time at the Bavarian giants, after being eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League
A 2-1 victory at the Allianz Arena was not enough to send the German outfit through with Antoine Griezmann scoring a vital, cool, counter-attacking away goal – building upon Atleti’s home 1-0 first leg triumph.
This makes it three consecutive years of Spanish teams knocking Guardiola’s Munich out of the Champions league at the penultimate stage.
The Spanish manager may be about to collect a league and domestic cup double which would tot up his major trophy tally to five, including three Bundesliga titles on the bounce. However, Bayern are a club that measures a managers success by their exploits in Europe and so the question arises, has Guardiola failed in Munich?
Munich hails Heynckes heroics
In his final year and second spell as Munich manager, Jupp Heynckes won a European treble. Under Heynckes, Bayern transformed into one of the world’s most complete teams after a dull end to Louis Van Gaal’s reign. Powerful and relentless defensively, including Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Dante and captain Philipp Lahm, these Bundesliga big names were moulded into a rounded solid defensive wall.
Munich were fast and ruthless with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben slicing through defences. The team’s constant overlapping and counter-attacking play pulled apart Barcelona in the Champions League semis in 2013, smashing them 7-0 on aggregate.
No other German club has ever recorded a treble, so Heynckes retired with this unique feat and said: “I can assure you that I have no intention of coaching again. I had a worthy ending.”
Coral have incoming manager Carlo Ancelotti at 5/1 to deliver Champions League success in his first season, 2016/17.
On January 16 2013, before the historic treble, it was announced that Guardiola would takeover in summer after taking his sabbatical. Even for the Catalan coach this was a daunting task.
Pep’s tactical evolution
Bayern began to flourish under Guardiola’s guidance and looked as though his reign would live up to both the club and coach’s high standards and goals.
Like his Barcelona side, his Bavarian outfit dominated possession and their high-pressure ball play poked holes in most Bundesliga teams. Guardiola tended to field a 4-1-4-1 formation over the en vogue 4-2-3-1 that was preferred under Heynckes.
A key tactic was to force opponents to the flanks, win possession on the wings and counter. Former Barca boss Guardiola also involved his defenders far more in build-up play in an attempt to create attacks from back to front through possession. Veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger was used as a single pivot before struggling with ever increasing knee injuries.
However, the cracks were there to see. Although there was menace, Munich had the tendency to slow down and became vulnerable to counter-attacks themselves with possession prized above all else.
Lahm began to play increasingly played in the holding role and versatile Alaba used in no less than four different positions. Thomas Muller was given a more free role to use his exceptional spacial awareness and clever finishing with 2014 free transfer Robert Lewandowski remaining central.
The beginning of the 2015/16 season saw the use of an outrageous, all-out attack 2-3-5 system. A master of innovation, Guardiola conjured up a formation that would allow numbers in attack, while retaining the valuable width new signings Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman provided with Arturo Vidal tasked with being the only real central midfielder. This gave Bayern an offensive numerical advantage that proved successful against most of the Bundesliga.
Guardiola’s European woes
Against Atletico in the Champions League, the the flaws of such an outlandish set-up when chasing the tie was laid bare. Atleti were helped by the fact Munich had to go after this game from the very beginning, meaning the home players poured forward and Xabi Alonso put this team front. However, Diego Simeone’s side ruthlessly found the tactical holes in Pep’s team.
Atleti kept compact and absorbed the waves of Bayern pressure and then, when the ball was won back, the Spanish side cut straight through the absent German midfield and were through on goal with just a few passes resulting in Griezmann finishing.
The Munich side utterly dominated possession, but were repelled by an Atleitco backline marshalled by Diego Godin until Lewandowski netted. However, it was not enough and Simeone’s side went through.
Guardiola is regarded is one of the greatest coaches in the game and there is a reason why he was courted by Europe’s biggest clubs. But the Catalan coach will leave to Manchester City this summer without the European glory he craved, without the ‘worthy ending’ Heynckes was given.
At a team where European triumphs are the barometer of success, Guardiola has failed to deliver and it can thus be argued his reign is a failure after being consecutively knocked out in the semi-finals three times is as many years – Real Madrid in 2014, his former club Barcelona last year and Atleti in 2016.
When Guardiola arrived in Bavaria, Bayern were European champions and it seemed almost inevitable that his side would go on to win the Champions League, not just once, but perhaps multiple times considering his record at Barca.
The manager had everything at his disposal in Munich; world class players, a huge budget and the pull of Bayern as a brand. Ultimately, Guardiola failed to do what the club expected of him and that will no doubt haunt him.
However, speaking after the game he said : “I think I have helped the players here. I am very satisfied with the performances. Maybe it wasn’t enough but in the end, I am satisfied.” A quote it’s rather hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho saying.
Although, there is another argument to be heard. Perhaps Bayern just lost to a better team, there is no shame in losing to a phenomenal unit such as Atletico. On another night Thomas Muller scores the penalty, the 17 shots on target yields a greater return and Griezmann’s strike is saved.
However, it is the repeated failure at the semi-final stage that is worrying, for Guardiola and his future employers.
City set sights on Europe
With his arrival this summer, Manchester City will look set to spend big for the Spaniard. No doubt, Guardiola will demand the purchase of high-profile, world-class talent, with French-born Basque defender Aymeric Laporte the latest to be linked.
Txiki Begiristain, who showed faith in former Barca teammate Guardiola, and other figures key to bringing to City will hope he can transfer his Catalan club success to Manchester and is 12/1 to deliver the Champions League trophy on his first season.
A removal of deadwood is likely to take place at the Etihad during the summer window, as Guardiola cultivates his desired side. The hierarchy at City crave Champions League victory as a sort of symbolic message to the world that they are a footballing superpower, and see the former Barcelona player as the man with the best chance of doing this.
Guardiola is a man obsessed with innovation and learning, moving to Mexican club Dorados to play under a coach he wanted to impart knowledge from. But until he conquers Europe with another side, there will always be the lingering doubt to whether Guadiola was greatly influential in Barcelona’s European dominance or was just blessed with the greatest team ever seen. The reality is that it was probably a mixture of both.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have their sights on the Champions League this year, but now face a real challenge in keeping their fourth spot with their city rivals Manchester United closing the gap after the Sky Blues’ defeat to Southampton.
Guardiola will concoct and design new footballing methods while at City and only time will tell if they prove fruitful.