Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2 - comment: Toni Kroos shows why Pep Guardiola's rotation policy is justified
The midfielder, who has been linked with a move to Manchester United, scored a sumptuous goal at the Emirates
Of all the observations to be drawn from Bayern’s victory on Wednesday evening, there is one in particular which muscled its way into the headlines in Germany and England alike. That Toni Kroos is anything but surplus to requirements in Munich.
It wasn’t just his own, radiant performance. It wasn’t just the wave of gushing that inevitably comes with such a beautiful goal. It was also the way that – if it had eluded the international audience until now – Guardiola’s system of rotation truly proved itself in the eyes of the world.
For while Manchester United fans may have got terribly excited by Kroos’ little grumble with Guardiola last month, this game truly proved how insignificant his temporary exclusion really was. That Bayern’s midfield is versatile enough to leave players out is exactly what Guardiola wanted. That different players rise to the challenge that squad depth sets at different moments is cleverly incorporated bonus.
Kroos could not have proved his worth in a finer way than he did at the Emirates. But around him, the virtues of rotation were exposing themselves in other ways. We saw, for example, Phillipp Lahm take over from Javi Martinez in midfield after Bayern had got the game under their control. Martinez, the man so good at cutting out the long ball counter attack, would have been less potent than Lahm with Bayern pressing Arsenal’s box.
We also saw Thomas Müller, not a stranger to playing on the left, on the bench, despite the lack of either of Bayern’s top left sided attackers. And then we saw Bayern overload the right wing. So very aware that Arsenal may try to exploit the weakened left hand side, Guardiola was not willing to risk building too many attacks through David Alaba’s superb offensive capabilities. Of all his touchline orders, one stood out: vociferously pointing to the ground in front of a sheepish Alaba: stay back sometimes, David, Ribéry isn’t here to bail you out.
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A nearly catastrophic backpass and a missed penalty aside, Alaba held his own under unfamiliar circumstances. His mentality, incidentally, is the reason he is considered a penalty taker. Or have we forgotten that glorious strike in the semi-final shootout against Real Madrid two years ago? Already suspended for the Final, the then 19-year-old ignored the pressure of taking the first penalty, and left Iker Casillas gaping at a bulging net.
One could go on and on about the different attributes of this squad, and while the performance in North London certainly did not show them at their most scintillating best, it did show the heightened subtlety and adaptability which Guardiola brought to this already excellent team.
The finest example of that, of course, was Kroos’ individual performance. All of Thomas Müller, Phillipp Lahm and Matthias Sammer have opined in the last few weeks that players must accept the competition, but perpetually fight only for the team. In Sammer’s philosophy – focused so much on individuals and leaders – that means carrying the team along with brilliant solo performances.
That is what Kroos did against Arsenal. The perfect team player, with the burning desire to prove his own individual worth to Guardiola’s troops, he balanced selflessness perfectly with self-belief.
It is the attitude which Guardiola and Sammer are creating within their set up, and Kroos will not be the last player to return from an internal setback burning to show his brilliance. Others too, will pull off such brilliant individual performances, designed solely to make this already splendid team even greater.
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