Pep Guardiola Needs Bayern To Keep Cool As They Attempt The Impossible


It wasn’t exactly a roar of defiance from Pep Guardiola, but it was far from defeatist.

“I’m the coach, I’m a realist, and I’ll never say we don’t have a chance,” the Bayern Munich manager stated as his team prepare to try and somehow overturn a 3-0 deficit at home to Barcelona on Tuesday. “We have to play with our hearts and our heads.”

The heads are perhaps one of the few areas where Bayern can claim the initiative, and start to tilt this tie. The situation is difficult to force but easy to imagine: if the Germans get an early goal, it could alter the entire dynamic of the game by at once engendering belief in them but also creating new doubt in Barcelona. The match could instantly have a different feel.

Right now, though, the feeling is that it’s going to be very difficult for Guardiola to pull this off. A major problem from before the first leg has become even more pronounced. The challenge looks close to impossible.

FC Barcelona v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final : News Photo

It partially illustrates the scale of the task that Deportivo La Coruna are the only side since the modern Champions League was founded in 1992-93 to overturn a three-goal deficit from a first leg, famously beating AC Milan 4-0 in the 2003-04 quarter-final, but there is so much more than history against Guardiola here.

Before the first leg, it was difficult to see how the Bayern manager could strike a successful balance between playing the high line so necessary to his game, and nullifying Leo Messi. That was all the more difficult because of the player absences that the German champions had to cover. No matter where you looked in their side, it looked like something would have to give.

So it proved, as the German defence eventually gave way to the majesty of Messi.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN-BARCELONA-TRAINING : News Photo

Those goals have multiplied the nature of that dilemma for Guardiola. The Catalan still has to worry about all those same problems but also worry about chasing three goals. The balance is even more precarious, as was emphasised by Barca’s third strike in the first leg.

Bayern tried to chase it, but only left open the space that meant their back line was desperately chasing Neymar as he rolled the past Manuel Neuer for that killer goal.

Guardiola acknowledged the folly of that ahead of the second leg.

“People are saying we need to attack but after the game in Barcelona, we need control,” the Bayern manager said. “With the strikers Barca have, every ball we lose becomes a counter-attack.”

There was also a statement amid all of that seemed somewhat counter-intuitive.

“The only way we can make the final is by playing better than Barcelona and doing what we did in the second half of the first leg.”

That may raise a few eyebrows given that it was in that second half Messi raised the roof and ripped Bayern apart, but Guardiola is right.

FBL-EUR-C1-BARCELONA-BAYERN : News Photo

The irony of that match given the general perception of the performance is that those fateful and fatal last 15 minutes were not when the Bayern manager got it wrong. He undeniably got it wrong in the first 15, and a 3-0 Barca lead would have been fully deserved at that point. Guardiola did address that though and thereafter did pretty much all you can do against a Messi in that kind of form, as even Jose Mourinho argued two days after the game.

Bayern just made it difficult as possible for the Argentine, and it kind of worked. Barca certainly had far fewer dangerous attacks between the 30th and 70th minute, and Bayern were even the better team for the period just after half-time.

The fundamental issue, however, is that any team is still a hostage to Messi’s form. You just have to set yourself up as best you can hope he has a bad day. That was emphatically not the case. The Barca number 10 instead produced one of his greatest nights, but the consequences of that should not change Guardiola’s plan.

The Catalan is correct. The only hope Bayern have is by setting up the same way. An early siege could be football suicide, even if that is what emotion would dictate. That is where those cooler heads come in.

It still feels that the best way to aim for that is controlled attacks - to be strategic.

After all, it is not just this semi-final that could be weighing on Guardiola.

“If we think about only scoring against Barca, we will lose like we did against Real Madrid last season.”

That would look very bad. Far from delivering the Champions League to Munich again, Guardiola will have suffered two of the worst semi-final defeats in the modern game. Both of his last-four ties with Bayern will have been routs.

That would not look good from the vantage point of history, even if there has been a heavy degree of pure misfortune to the defeats.

Now, he needs that fortune to swing the other way. That’s what a task of this size is going to take.

 

Read more from Miguel Delaney