The Catalan was meant to take Jupp Heynckes’ treble winners to the next level but he has instead turned them into the worst version of his former Blaugrana side
By Mark Doyle
Stefan Effenberg told Goal after Bayern Munich’s 1-0 loss to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last week that Pep Guardiola’s “system had reached its limit”. On Tuesday night in Bavaria, it reached its nadir as his European champions were thrashed 4-0 at home by Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
After Bayern’s stunning demolition of Manchester Ciy at the Etihad earlier in the season, it appeared as if Guardiola was poised to create Bayern 2.0. Instead, he has turned last season’s treble winners into Barcelona 2012.
The Catalan had claimed after his side’s first-leg defeat in the Spanish capital that he was proud of his players’ performance. He felt that they deserved credit for having a 78 per cent share of possession. It immediately evoked memories of Xavi pathetically clinging to possession stats after Barcelona had been humiliated 7-0 on aggregate by Bayern in the semi-finals of last year’s Champions League. Keeping the ball should be a means to an end. For Xavi and former Barca boss Guardiola, it seems, possession has become the end in itself.
Serious questions must now be asked of Guardiola’s footballing philosophy. ‘Tika-taka’ was a revolutionary style of play. It transformed Barcelona into one of the most aesthetically pleasing sides the game has ever seen. They were also incredibly successful – until teams worked out how to play against the Blaugrana; how to shut them down, how to isolate Lionel Messi. When Guardiola left Camp Nou in 2012, Barca had become predictable, one-dimensional. Just like Bayern in recent weeks and months.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After taking over Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winners last summer, Guardiola was supposed to take Bayern Munich to the next level. Instead, he has taken them backwards.
And now his CV will come under review. Once again, the role of La Masia in his success at Camp Nou will be highlighted. As will Barca’s over-reliance on Messi. The critics will argue that it’s easy to stick to one’s principles when arguably the greatest player of all time is always there to defend them.
There’s also the fact that Guardiola failed embarrassingly during his time at Camp Nou to adequately address Barcelona’s glaring defensive deficiencies (Dmytro Chygrynskiy, anyone?).
Worryingly, during his one-year sabbatical, Guardiola does not seem to have improved, developed, evolved. The same failings and flaws are still there. The same oversights are being made. All season long, it has been clear that Bayern are vulnerable in the centre of defence. All season long, they have held a ludicrously high line. Both were brutally exposed by Madrid over the course of 180 excruciating minutes for Bayern fans, who now know how their Barcelona counterparts felt just 12 months ago.
Having already claimed the Bundesliga in record-breaking time, and with a DFB-Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund to come, Guardiola could yet claim a double in his first season in Bavaria. However, as Die Welt made clear on Tuesday morning: “Only the Champions League counts.” Guardiola took over one of the strongest squads the European game has ever seen and Bayern did not just fail to defend their title, they did so spectacularly.
Indeed, the Munich daily Abendzeitung had told Bayern’s players “You are the kings!” ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Madrid. The fans had also come to the Allianz Arena expecting to see an inauguration. Instead they experienced humiliation. And Guardiola must take all of the blame for that.