As someone that doesn’t like to immediately buy into something that everyone seems to be moving towards, I have been hesitant in my hope as a Manchester City fan regarding the arrival of Pep Guardiola. Many have suggested that City will dominate the league, win the treble and that the Spaniard would come in and seemingly fix every single problem that ever plagued the club. And whilst I believe that Guardiola is the best possible manager for the job, I have recently suggested that his inclination towards possession based systems may be the antithesis of what is needed to survive and thrive in the modern premier league. Liverpool, Tottenham, West Ham, and Leicester are just a few clubs who have adopted some form of a press, something that can expose a possession-centric system if Pep isn’t careful. However, after Bayern Munich’s performance in the Champions league on Wednesday, my mind has been put at ease. Guardiola’s tactical flexibility, man management, and understanding of the game all came to the fore as he overcame the two-goal deficit against a high pressing Juventus team.
Juventus and Max Allegri actually set up quite brilliantly against Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. Guardiola emphasises three P’s in his possession-oriented philosophy; position, possession, and play. The three P’s were in full effect on Wednesday night but were being stifled against Allegri’s back three. What Guardiola usually likes to do is have his wingers stay wide so that the back line of the opposition is stretched, creating gaps for other forwards and even midfielders to run into. This was countered by Juventus’ formation of a back three and a midfield five. The wide players in the midfield essentially operate as wing-backs which in this case were helping the central three defenders not become too stretched. Ultimately they held Bayern to having very few good chances by keeping the back three organised and focused on Lewandowski and anyone who would get too close to the box.
In the midfield, Bayern basically had two midfield anchors in Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal, and both did well in those respective roles of spreading the play across the pitch and stopping Juventus from breaking, but the Bavarian team called out for a Thiago or a number ten to take the space in front of the Juve back three and create chances. For some odd reason David Alaba was stepping into that role and simply wasn’t quick enough with his passing in order to make anything happen. Juventus made the most of this blunted attack and broke with pace and precision, clinically finishing the chances they created by exposing the 21-year old Joshua Kimmich.
Bayern went into the dressing room at half time on the ropes. They had been hit fast and hard, forcing the manager to make some interesting changes. Instead of taking off the struggling Kimmich, Guardiola opted to for Mehdi Benatia and switched David Alaba to central defence, bringing Juan Bernat on at left back. The German giants had been stifled in the first half, but they did enjoy some chances through the pace and man beating power of Douglas Costa. The Brazilian danger man was doing what will ultimately cause problems for any system; he was beating his man and creating one on one chances for his teammates. Lewandowski was being smothered by the back three when the ball was played on the ground, but a decent cross and an individual battle in the air was something that would ultimately prove fruitful. Costa would go on to be the player that assisted both Lewandowski and Muller for the equalising goals.
Extra time arrived and the substitution that many had anticipated finally came, Thiago came on and my curiosity as to why he wasn’t played much earlier was soon quelled. Before scoring the decisive extra time goal, Thiago gave the ball away several times with almost no pressure. It was obvious to me that the diminutive Spaniard was unfit or ill in some way. Guardiola most likely saw his play in normal time, against a completely energized Juventus as a huge risk, but bringing him on when they were tired and pinned into their own half was a calculated uncertainty. Thiago would break the deadlock with a brilliant link up goal and Juventus’ pain was furthered by Kingsley Coman sealing the win with another. So what does this performance say about Guardiola as a manager?
His persistence to break Juve down with his passing oriented style in the first half was a bit worrying, but seeing as how he adapted the system for the second half proves that he’ll try have confidence and make his own ideas work, but won’t lose the game to save his pride. His insisted development with a young player is also something that was refreshing to see. Wednesday night’s game was an experience that Kimmich couldn’t buy with all the money in the world, something that could prove instrumental in his future development. It would have been easy to take off the youngster, but instead Guardiola stuck with his original choice and took off the more experienced Benatia. The result also proves that he knows how to work with and win with a makeshift team. Boateng, Robben, Badstuber, and in some sense Thiago were all unavailable for the tie, but he established a plan and motivated his team to move past a very good Juventus side. This performance shows what Guardiola can do when in a bit of a pinch, and I’m personally really excited to see what he can do for Manchester City in the near future.