Pep Guardiola: ‘My desire is to have 100% possession’

Bayern Munich coach finds faults despite 5-1 hammering of Arsenal

Bayern Munich manager Peop Guardiola on the sidelines during the Champions League game against Arsenal at the Allianz Arena. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic

Bayern Munich hogged 66 per cent of the ball in their 5-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal on Wednesday night but Pep Guardiola wanted more. "What I want, my desire, is to have 100 per cent possession," the Bayern manager said.

Guardiola’s quest for perfection is his guiding light and it is easy to paint him as the obsessive compulsive who can never be happy. Against Arsenal, he was agitated on the touchline, even as his team led comfortably and, after the game, he raked over the flaws which, to most onlookers, felt pretty minimal.

He was unhappy at how his players had “lost easy balls” in the first 10 minutes while in the second half, there was frustration at how they permitted Arsenal to counter. “We wanted to control the game but we allowed a lot of counters,” Guardiola said. “This was not correct and we have to improve on that, definitely.”

Even the outstanding Thiago Alcantara could do better, Guardiola said. As at the Emirates Stadium two weeks previously in Bayern's 2-0 defeat, the Spain midfielder was a joy to watch – his smooth, unflustered style allowing him, seemingly, all the time he wanted on the ball. Arsenal could not lay a glove on him.


A feature of the tie was the sight of Thiago drifting to the left side when Bayern had possession, which allowed the left back, David Alaba, to maraud forward almost as an auxiliary No 10. But still, so much went through Thiago. He attempted 133 passes, completing 122 of them and, for context, no Arsenal player attempted more than 45.

“In important matches, there are players who might be afraid but Thiago is extraordinary in such matches,” Guardiola said. “He was injured over the last two years and now, he is really fit. But he needs to understand that with his skills, he has the possibility to be an even better player.

“There are times when he loses the ball without being pressured so he has to work on that. He has to interpret his game so that his passes can cause danger.”

Guardiola, though, feels that everything is coming together. In his third season at Bayern, all of the hard work; all of the highly nuanced relationship building; all of the emphasis on the creed of possession, is getting through.

Even in the loss at Arsenal or the 0-0 at Eintracht Frankfurt last Friday, Guardiola noted that Bayern’s identity was clear and it was only the fine margins that eluded them. Guardiola believes that if the team can continue to play in this way, hogging the ball, starving the opposition of opportunity, then hope at the business end of the season will spring eternal.

“People say that ball possession might not be the most important thing but for me, it is the most important thing,” Guardiola said. “It’s the first step and then the second, third and fourth steps can come after. With the ball, you have more possibilities to create something and to concede fewer chances.

“I have a lot of respect for my players and when they decided to become footballers, they wanted to play with the ball. It’s not only about running. It’s all about having the ball, playing and dealing with the ball. Because we have had the ball, we have scored a lot of goals and haven’t conceded a lot.”

Guardiola made the comparison to the team’s level from his first two seasons at the club, when they cleaned up domestically but fell short in the Champions League and, according to him, it stacks up extremely favourably. Guardiola’s tenure in Bavaria will, perhaps, be judged on whether he triumphs in Europe’s elite competition but there was an ominous tone to his words, the sense that Bayern were ramping up for the big prize.

“This is the best team of my era here,” Guardiola said. “People want to see successful football, to see attacking football with all 10 outfield players and we need some time for that. This is now our third year together, there have been a lot of matches and discussions, and we know each other much better now. I know my players better. We know what we want.

“People might think that I came to Bayern and knew the players immediately but no. You need time for that. It’s a lot better this year. We have improved. It’s not perfect yet because in the second half against Arsenal, we conceded but it’s a lot better than before.”

(Guardian service)