Analysis: Manchester United to provide ultimate test of Pep Guardiola passing philosophy during Champions League meeting
After three matches without a win, Bayern's Spanish coach is under pressure to ensure his style of play delivers a treble
Pep Guardiola was determined to start afresh. After the rather prickly end to his evening with the English in Manchester last week, his press conference today included bets of a pint of beer and a very pointed "Willkommen in München" for those inquisitors who seemed to have irritated him in the Old Trafford media theatre.
The European champions are not quite the oasis of calm you might imagine, though. The diplomatic impasse between the club and a section of the British tabloid press has remained since last Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
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The Germans have rescinded their ban on The Sun, imposed for its headline "You Schwein" about Bastian Schweinsteiger, who scored and was dismissed in Manchester, but the Daily Mirror remains persona non grata, having not published an apology for its "You Dirty Schwein".
Then there is the distinct intimation of mortality this great club are feeling after a weekend which brought an end to their 53-game unbeaten sequence in the Bundesliga, with a 1-0 loss at Augsburg. It was the first time in 60 games in all competitions Bayern had not found the net.
Though their first run of three winless games in more than three years should be kept in perspective – United have only twice won three consecutive games in this campaign – the defeat in south-west Bavaria, on the back of the draws with United and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, suggests that Bayern's rapid, effortless retention of the Bundesliga title might have removed a little of their intensity.
Amid the usual self-serving press conference talk, in which he declared that he "was here" to win the Bundesliga, not to remain unbeaten in it, and that Augsburg were an irrelevance, Guardiola did not entirely evade the fact that failure to take the next stride in European competition would raise questions about the Catalan passing principles he has brought here.
Pep Guardiola is under pressure to at least match last season's success (Getty)
The mild sniffiness about the German champions replacing Jupp Heynckes with Spanish principles has been evident for some time. It is a month since Franz Beckenbauer – always a man with an opinion to bring forth – declared that Bayern passed too much, and suggested Guardiola would make the team boring – just as he had at Barcelona. "In the end, we [Bayern Munich] will be unwatchable, like Barça. They'll be passing it backwards on the goal-line," Beckenbauer said, and though he later recanted his comments, last week's performance at Old Trafford exemplified what he had been saying. Bayern's 698 completed passes dwarfed United's 166, of course, but they barely hurt United in the final third.
Philipp Lahm, Guardiola's captain and defender of the faith, said: "We've got to do what we always do; we have to make the most of our possession." But Guardiola's rather unflattering talk of United's defensive mindset was delivered with a grudging respect, which suggests that he considers tomorrow night – with Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez suspended – the ultimate test of his philosophy. "They are so defensive," Guardiola said. "And they use the counter-action very, very, very, very well. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe David Moyes thinks another thing, but I think they are going to wait back with eight or nine players in the box, await our mistake and wait for a free-kick or a corner to punish us."
United will believe they can do the punishing. Wayne Rooney suggested last week that Bayern's high line is exploitable, as Danny Welbeck should have proved at Old Trafford, and a weakness to set pieces was also demonstrable in their zonal marking at Old Trafford.
Perhaps this talk of weakness is delusional. Perhaps a mild drop off the pace is about to be followed by a night which reveals the clear gulf in class, man for man. But Guardiola is by no means insulated from pressure. "I'm not here to compare myself with what Jupp Heynckes did last season," he said. "But then I knew right from the start when I came here that I've got to be in the situation where I have to get that treble. And if I don't, hey, that's not so good."
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