I have a lot of respect for Pep Guardiola. Four league titles and two Champions League titles in testament to the man’s brilliance. His Barcelona team of 2009 till 2011 will undoubtedly go down in history lane as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. His Barcelona team formed the backbone of the successful 2010 World Cup winning XI, with seven of his Barcelona players making the starting XI. Six of his Bayern players started the 2014 final against Argentina. That his teams formed the core of the last two World Cup winning squads is no coincidence. The man is that good.
I watched FC Bayern capitulate away at the home of their closest challengers VFL Wolfsburg on the first match day after the winter break. One look at the FC Bayern personnel in the starting XI that day, and it was obvious the game could be difficult for the reigning champions. It had to be the most conservative, uncreative, undynamic line up ever assembled by an elite manager. Four defenders, a midfielder at right back, two holding midfielders, one creative midfielder, and two strikers. Bayern’s entire creative unit in that game began and ended at the feet of Robben. All Wolfsburg had to do to nullify Bayern as an attacking threat in that game was to deny Robben any space to operate in. And that was exactly what they did. By the time Pep had the inventiveness to introduce Mario Gotze into the game, the game had run away from the Bavarians.
I remember a very important Classico game from Guardiola’s final season at Barcelona. It was basically all in or nothing game for the Catalans. Everyone expected Pep to come at Madrid from all sides in that game, unleash Pedro and Suarez as wing forwards and lay siege on the Madrid goal. Pep did the unthinkable and started Alves and youngster Tello as wing forwards. Of course they lost the game and Madrid went on to win the title.
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It is my opinion that Pep Guardiola is a genius. Reports I’ve read from people who have worked with him state that he pays attention to even the tiniest of detail. He is a perfectionist at what he does. Guardiola is one of three active coaches in the world who I currently refer to as world class. He, with Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, but I think he suffers from a lack of motivation; he is someone who needs to be constantly challenged. He’s often so far ahead of the competition; he needs to be making things interesting. He needs to level the playing field and play with a handicap. Hence the experiments, the false 9s, converting Lahm to a midfielder, start huge games with 6 defenders. Pep is merely levelling the playing field.
Pep Guardiola is such a master of the short passing game, it borders on the brink of arrogance. He could have stuck with Heyneckes high-octane regime at Bayern that took Europe by storm in 2012/13, the one that demolished Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate. But Pep has his principles he will not compromise on, he might tweak his game plan to outsmart you, but he’ll stick to his ideals, regardless of who you are and what team you manage.
In almost every game Pep has lost in the Champions league, he has fallen to the same kryptonite. The water tight defence; Inter in 2010, Chelsea in 2012, Madrid in 2014. 99% of the time Pep’s superior tactics confounds the opposition, but on that rare occasion when his superior passing doesn’t unlock the opposition, I’ve never seen a plan B. It’s that way or no other way.
At some point midway through the second half against Wolfsburg, Bayern had both centre backs in advance of centre circle in the opposition’s half. Pep Guardiola’s knack for playing a high line regardless of the opposition is nothing but lack of respect for the opposition. Against a player as quick as Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne, he played the high line and paid the price, but more curiously in last season’s Champions league, against arguably the world’s quickest attack in Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema, Pep played his preferred high line formation and played right into the hands of Ancelotti who must have been ecstatic to see Pep had lined up how he had hoped he would. The result was a 5-0 aggregate humbling.
Pep’s Bayern will undoubtedly win the Bundesliga at a canter, it is a wonder why bookmakers still take bets on this almost inevitable result, but the fear is that with the powers of the short passing regime on the wane as h demonstrated by the Spanish National team of late, Bayern might be caught out cold in the UEFA Champions League if Guardiola doesn’t show the opposition enough respect.