Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Pep Guardiola plans to make Bayern Munich play the Barcelona way

Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola shares a joke with his coaching staff during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Tuesday October 1, 2013
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola shares a joke with his coaching staff during a training session at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Tuesday October 1, 2013

What do you do with a team of champions? It is the problem facing both  and this season, the hardest balancing act in sport: what to change, and by how much, in order to impose their own character while not losing what made the side so successful.

While Moyes might be criticised for the limits of his ambition at , no one can say the same of Guardiola. His goal, as  said in an equivalent position nearly 40 years before, was "to win it better".  may have won the treble for  last year, but Guardiola wants to do it again, with style.

Fortunately, the Spaniard knows a thing or two about successful, attractive football. His Barcelona team was the best of its generation, with the trophies and – just as importantly – the performances to prove it.

But there is a difference between  and FC Bayern. At Barça, Guardiola was managing the club he had captained, a team of players nearly all raised playing the same system in the same academy. It was a case of cajoling his squad towards an already shared ideal.

In Munich, though, Guardiola is imposing a foreign system. He needs to convince the players of the merits of his approach and then teach them how to perform it. "The way he wants to play, that needs time," Uwe Rösler, the Brentford manager and BT Sport Bundesliga pundit, told The Independent. "Now you have to tell a team who played one way to play a different way. To get the mechanisms – the relations between the players and the units – optimal, will take time."

In practical terms, that means changing Heynckes' preferred 4-2-3-1 system for a more ambitious 4-1-4-1. Guardiola thinks he only needs one holding player, thereby allowing him two creators and two wingers behind his lone centre-forward. The whole team plays further up the pitch, pressing hard from the front to win the ball back as quickly as possible, with a brisker tempo in possession as well.

And at first it was difficult. Guardiola's first competitive game was the Super Cup against , and he used  – the man whose  education should help to integrate the new system – as the holding midfielder. Dortmund ran through Bayern and beat them 4-2.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern were not particularly convincing in their first two league games – wins over Borussia Mönchengladbach and  – before they could manage just a 1-1 draw at Freiburg, as they slipped two points behind Dortmund.

It was not an easy time and Bayern's sporting director, , attacked the players in public, saying they were "playing football without any emotions" and were "hiding behind the coach".

Sammer was felt to have overstepped the mark but his words inadvertently worked. The last few games have been far better, with the new coach finding an unlikely answer to his issue of who to play in that crucial lone holding midfield role. Not ,  or Thiago, but .

Not an obvious choice, perhaps, but Guardiola – who had coached Xavi,  and  – said right-back Lahm was "the most intelligent player" he had ever coached. And Lahm's tactical awareness and technical quality have been perfect, freeing up those in front of him to attack.

Since then, Guardiola's Bayern have started to play the football some had hoped of them. The players, it seems, are buying into his approach. In what should have been their hardest game of the season so far, they won 4-0 at Schalke, the favourites for third place. They have won their two games since. Something might be starting to click.

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