Last night, Real Madrid vanquished Bayern Munich 4-0 to grab their place in the Champions League final in Lisbon, which is going to be played on May 17 of this year.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Bayern Munich, if the pundits were to be believed. You see, Bayern was the defending champions of this competition and the champions of the German Bundesliga, a feat they achieved in record time. They also had one of the best managers of his generation, the architect of the great Barcelona sides from 2008-2012. The best, the pundits said then, just got better.
So what happened?
Well, to put it lightly, Guardiola’s tactics were exposed. Bayern played into the hands of Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, himself not a slouch in the managerial ranks.
Where Bayern were sterile and unable to break the Madrid defense down, Real was incisive, unleashing their quick strike attack and filling Munich’s centre backs with dread during every counter attack. While ultimately Bayern’s undoing was their inability to defend set pieces – three of the four goals were off corners and free kicks – they were always susceptible to the quick strike attacks from Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema.
Bayern’s defense last year played deep and was covered by two great defensive midfielders. Guardiola’s system of a high line and ball playing midfielders was not fit for this team, and the fact that his forwards weren’t pressing high didn’t help matters either. You can go the other way and say that Bayern didn’t have the personnel to execute their manager’s game plan. But then again the manager should have realized that.
As Michael Cox of Zonal Marking put it, “this eleven was basically Jupp Heynckes’ side playing football that doesn’t entirely suit their strengths – last season they mixed possession football with more direct attacking when required.”
Getting back Thiago Alcantara, their midfield maestro in the beginning of the season who was out injured since March 29 (incidentally when Bayern began to slip), next season should help, as will the signing of Borrusia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski. A few defenders who can play Guardiola’s system can help too.
In September of last year, Barcelona’s Gerard Pique commented that his team had become “slaves to their system”, forever indebted to tiki taka, which has seen them win countless trophies. That system, of course, was implemented at Barcelona by Guardiola, who still uses it at Bayern.
One has to wonder: Is Guardiola a slave to the system?