Real Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0 comment: Pep Guardiola's idealistic revolution has a way to go – if he is given time by Bayern
Bayern dominated possession but could not make the break through
Wednesday 23 April 2014
From the shiny crown to the shiny shoes Pep Guardiola is a gift to football – building teams that sweep forward with short, sharp, diagonal passes and never a thought of “holding what we have”. Neutrals can only hope the heavy mob in the Bayern Munich boardroom give him the time to finish the job, because on tonight’s evidence the job is very much unfinished.
The sight of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on the halfway line whenever Bayern won a corner, and three times in the first half playing passes outside his area as full-backs abandoned duties they simply do not have in Guardiola’s team, contrasted with Real Madrid’s ruthlessly effective counter-attacking prowess – primed, it should be said, by Jose Mourinho, and now polished by Carlo Ancelotti – and it was a joy to watch.
But the Bayern power brokers who have tut-tutted at the team in recent weeks and at the way Guardiola’s side have finished the season, will have seen naivety and not bravery in Real’s goal.
Guardiola’s decision to move Philipp Lahm from right-back to central midfield has been a masterstroke… to a point – because it has meant Rafinha playing at right-back.
There were glimpses of all three of Guardiola’s Barça midfielders in Lahm in the first half – filling holes like Sergi Busquets, picking passes like Xavi, and even carrying the ball to the byline Andres Iniesta-style on the occasions when Real Madrid stood back and admired, leaving him with the time and space to do so.
Roberto Martinez took Leighton Baines to see a Lahm masterclass first hand at Old Trafford in the last round. If Martinez can really turn him into the English equivalent then England and Everton will be thanking him for the next five years.
Karim Benzema slots the ball into the back of the net from close range But Rafinha is too small a player to fill that huge Lahm-shaped gap at right-back and he was taken apart down the Madrid left by, of all people, Fabio Coentrao, going beyond Ronaldo to set up Karim Benzema for Real’s goal.
Guardiola’s side had monstered the possession stats, with 90 per cent of the ball in the first 15 minutes compared to Real Madrid’s 10 per cent, but it counted for nothing by half-time with Real Madrid 1-0 up.
Despite the attention to artistic impression, Guardiola is a winner and the statistic will have done nothing to improve his mood as he walked down the tunnel.
Benzema will remain at Real Madrid until 2019 He walked away from Barcelona because he no longer believed he could make them win; he could have had them playing beautifully and losing for as long as they were prepared to let him stay, but he wanted to go on winning and he knew he would have to do that somewhere else.
That desire is also why Guardiola chose to go to Bayern and not take a more romantic Premier League option without the guarantees of domestic success.
He also walked away from Barcelona because he was being overruled by directors who knew better when he suggested certain big-name players would have to be moved on. It remains to be seen how Bayern react if players as iconic as Bastian Schweinsteiger or Franck Ribéry – whom he took off in the second half last night – are among the changes he wants to implement over the next two years.
Cristiano Ronaldo comes off to be replaced by Gareth Bale If he continues to get free rein then the Guardiolisation of Bayern will continue, and player for player they will improve. Robert Lewandowski will lead the line next season and not Mario Mandzukic. They will also have a new right-back so that Lahm can continue in midfield and not have to shift back, as he did last night midway through the second half. There will be a new right-sided central defender too.
This year is perhaps the blip on the chart. A season’s dip that just maybe comes at the perfect time for Real Madrid. They have never been closer to winning their 10th European Cup, one up in the semi-final and knowing their greatest rivals will not meet them in the final.
There is plenty of football to be played in the second leg and Bayern will play much of it as they did in that first 15 minutes tonight, but it is Ancelotti and not Guardiola who has one foot in the final.
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