He has been hailed in the last few years as one of the greatest coaches in world football, and rightly so. His record at Barcelona was immense, and until Tuesday evening he was on course to win everything on offer at Bayern Munich this season. But a humiliating defeat at home to Real Madrid means that for all the success he has had, Guardiola’s first season in German football can almost be deemed a failure.
It was always going to be a big ask to regain the Champions League and build on the success of a German treble, but Guardiola had been handed the best team in Europe, with players who were used to dominating games and winning trophies. Acknowledged by many as the favourites to win this year’s trophy, it was always likely that Bayern failing to do so would result in some disappointment.
Guardiola’s team crumbled in Munich against a Real Madrid side that seized the bull by the horns and blew the Germans out of the water. Two, early, headed goals from Sergio Ramos caused Guardiola and his men to panic and lose all composure. This was the moment for Guardiola to prove his worth. It was a monumental challenge to score four goals, but surely one that the Spaniard would relish?
Instead, the manager left his players to surge forward against arguably the best counter-attacking team in the world, with Ronaldo, Benzema, Di Maria and Bale all hungry for goals. A third soon followed for Madrid, Ronaldo slotting home after a fast break, and any slim hope of a fight back was well and truly crushed.
Of course, Bayern needed to attack. They needed goals. But with 70 minutes left to play, there was certainly enough time to grab a couple of goals. And with this team and a fired up Allianz Arena crowd, anything could have been possible, especially as Guardiola’s possession-based style of football and slick passing is widely admired and considered to pose a great attacking threat. But when push came to shove, the Germans lost their patience and composure, surging forward recklessly when Madrid’s forwards were still fresh and at their most dangerous.
Why, if the style is considered so wonderful and effective, does the system change when goals are urgently needed? The same thing used to happen at Barcelona. Guardiola’s tiki-taka was employed week in, week out, until they found themselves behind in the latter stages of the game. Pique was routinely thrown into a centre forward role and balls were hoofed up to him. Not exactly what you’d call the ‘Barcelona philosophy’.
By half time, Bayern still had a chance to restore some pride. But a bizarre decision to replace Mario Mandzukic with Javi Martinez nipped that in the bud. Why remove your best goal scorer for another centre midfield player when you desperately need goals? Perhaps Guardiola so rarely finds himself in a losing position that he hasn’t figured out a magical formula to deal with it. The game was gone and Ronaldo’s late free kick added insult to injury.
Whichever way you look at it, Bayern’s performance was remarkably average, with shoddy defending and a lack of any attacking threat making all their possession quite pointless. But arguably more worrying was that the supposed brilliance of their coach was nowhere to be seen.