Guardiola in denial as Bayern on mission impossible
Barcelona forwards present clear and present danger
Semi-final, second leg Bayern Munich (0) v Barcelona (3) Allianz Arena, 7.45pm TV: TV3, UTV Bayern Munich’s season may be listing ominously, with Germany’s champions required to overturn a three-goal deficit to the divine attacking talents of Barcelona in their Champions League semi-final second leg. But if the ship does go down at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night, it will do so with the very public assurance that Pep Guardiola intends to remain at the club for another year.
As denials go this was at the more robust end of the scale. “I have said it 200 million times,” Guardiola told the media – in Munich and beyond, at his pre-match press conference, “I have one more year on my contract here. Next season I will be here and that’s all there is to it.”
As ever in football it seems likely some truth lies on both sides, the rest in the grey areas between. Few things are ever entirely certain in an industry that is uniquely vulnerable to what Harold Wilson described as “events”. Certainly it is hard to shake the feeling another pride-puncturing defeat at the Allianz Arena to go with last season’s steamrollering by Real Madrid and the cuffing aside at the Camp Nou might add up to something more toxic than just another near miss in Europe.
Guardiola was unusually defensive in more ways than one in Munich, offering the rare spectacle of the great innovator lingering on the need to keep it tight and do a job defensively on Tuesday night. But then this is perhaps the first time in Guardiola’s senior coaching career his own team has been so clearly outgunned by an opponent’s attacking strength.
“People think we have to attack well, but we especially have to defend very well,” Guardiola said, repeating the mantra that what went wrong in Barcelona last week was a failure of individual component parts rather than his own meticulously adaptable, but still rather fixed-gear, grand plan.
“I don’t know how to play without organization. We will try to score with control, something we couldn’t do at Camp Nou. Without Robben and Ribery, we don’t have their [Barcelona’s] specific quality . . . But we have won without them. We have many options.”
In spite of which Bayern are doing a fairly convincing impression of a team whose season is in the process of slipping beneath the waters. Three weeks ago Bayern were an end of season push away from the treble. Four successive defeats have followed, the most recent at home to Augsburg at the weekend, a match topped and tailed by the twin indignities of Pep Reina’s early sending off and Raul Bobadilla’s cheekily back-flicked winning goal.
That result was followed by Lothar Matthäus telling German television Bayern’s players had “lost a bit of belief” in Guardiola. And certainly a return of two goals in their last five games, since the rout of Porto, suggests a group of players struggling with its attacking plans, deprived of the strength on the flanks that is key to Guardiola’s focus on locating and relentlessly exposing an opponent’s defensive weakness.
Hence perhaps the rare sense of a manager not entirely sure whether to stick or twist, torn between his own instincts, a philosophy that says nine times out of 10 attack, the 10th time think about it, then still attack; and the realities of managing a team that must first of all nullify an opponent’s more powerful attack. This clanking of unfamiliar gears was apparent in the high-risk three-man back-line abandoned after 15 minutes at the Camp Nou.
Just as it is unavoidable now as Guardiola contemplates chasing down the one team in the world that demands even Bayern must first concern themselves with how to stop that genius-led attack from scoring.
This time it seems likely the home team will start more cautiously, giving themselves the entire 90 minutes to pressurise opponents who have spent the last three months playing with a rare degree of freedom. Barcelona travelled to Munich with a full first-team squad to pick from and with a 2-0 defeat of Real Sociedad at the weekend making it 28 victories in their last 30 matches.
“It’s a dream to be here, but I won’t commit suicide if we stop winning,” Guardiola said. But few things clarify the course of events better than a season-ending defeat and this already looks like the most intriguingly alive of all-but-lost causes. Guardian Service