Pep Guardiola prepared to ride out the storm and stick to his principles
Mauling by Real Madrid brings a torrent of criticism for the Bayern manager’s tactics
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola issues instructions during the Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. Photo: Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty
It is at times like these when, for a manager, the world can seem a dark place. As methods are pilloried, tactics crucified and past glories forgotten, friends can feel like foes and adversaries appear as assassins. When criticism is flying at you from all angles, self-belief is the only solace.
How Pep Guardiola needs such resolve at this moment. Bayern Munich’s 4-0 capitulation at the hands of Real Madrid on Tuesday night must surely represent a crushing nadir in his already glittering career. Now, where previously Bayern were hailed as the world’s most menacing side, the heart of Bavaria is rocking.
Yet one man’s tactical acumen, proved beyond doubt to be ruthlessly effective in recent years at Barcelona, does not suddenly disappear over the course of 90 minutes, no matter how emphatic a defeat.
The knives are certainly out for Guardiola, whose reputation was dealt a serious blow by Carlo Ancelotti, yet he remains undoubtedly the manager of the modern era.
“We got a slap in the face, it was a debacle what we experienced here,” said Bayern president, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, after the 5-0 aggregate loss, also labelling the performance a “fiasco”. Others have gleefully revelled in the perceived demise of a possession-based approach and scribed damning epitaphs of the short-passing game.
The German and Spanish press did not hold back. Bild splashed with the headline “the Bayern downfall” along with a picture of Manuel Neuer grasping thin air, and gave five players a match rating of six. Given that the usual ratings only range from one to five, one being the best, scathing is perhaps an understatement.
The Frankfurt Allgemeine said Bayern “fell like dominoes”, while Madrid-based Marca reported “the worst thrashing in history”. AS ran a headline declaring: “Munich burns”.
All this came on the back of a desperately poor performance from Bayern, who left themselves vulnerable at set-pieces and terribly exposed on the counterattack. It was one of their worst results in recent memory and leaves Madrid only one victory from a 10th European Cup triumph, La Décima within touching distance thanks to Ancelotti and the decisive incisions of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
For Bayern, though, the summer will allow for a period of reflection. Winning the Bundesliga with seven matches remaining proved an ill-fated success, with four defeats coming in the eight matches that followed, but it remains a fine achievement and with the German Cup final still to come.
That said, Arjen Robben stated that “a 4-0 defeat at home is a choker” and the captain, Philipp Lahm, added: “We’re very disappointed because we set our sights high, but suddenly we were 2-0 down after 20 minutes from two set-pieces. That really leaves a bitter taste.
“I don’t think we played well tactically in the first half. The game was too open. It was the opposite of the first leg when we controlled the play. I know they hit us on the break last week, but [on Tuesday] it was end-to-end stuff in the first half. That’s fundamentally not the way we play our football, but it’s what Real really like. It totally played into their hands.”
The summer arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund will be a significant boost, bringing a proven goalscorer to the club and more potency in attack to help Mario Mandzukic, who was withdrawn at half-time against Madrid after a poor 45 minutes.
Failing to score in two matches is arguably the most worrying fact for Guardiola, and the Spaniard blamed himself for the defeat, saying players were in the wrong positions and questioning whether his squad is suited to his preferred style.
Yet claims that his entire approach is flawed are certainly misguided. There were serious errors in the performance, most notably a lack of an alternative tactic, but Guardiola has been at the club for only a year.
Jupp Heynckes’s side may have been all-conquering and imperious on their way to the Champions League title last season but no team has defended the trophy since Milan in 1990. Compound that with a drastic change in coaching direction and securing a second European title in two years was always going to be a huge challenge.
Changing too much too quickly is one valid criticism that could be levelled at Guardiola. However, 14 trophies in four years in Catalonia, crafting arguably the most talented club side in history, is an achievement that currently risks being belittled by one defeat.
“There’s no valid argument for my system after this result and you can say what you want of course. But I can’t change what I feel,” he said. “I like to play with the ball. We just didn’t play with the ball together.”
Keeping faith in his methods appears inevitable. Firstly, though, Guardiola has to ride out the storm.