Last season, Bayern Munich did something that had never been done before – the Bavarians celebrated the first treble (Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal) in the club’s mighty history.
The club celebrated a record-breaking season; one that would rarely, if ever, be repeatable.
Why, then, is Bayern manager Pep Guardiola expected to instantly replicate that historic season?
The Spanish tinkerer agreed to join Bayern Munich mid-season last year, signing a deal that would see him take over for eventual record-breaker Jupp Heynckes at the end of the 2012/13 season.
Heynckes, as already mentioned, celebrated a treble with the club, leaving new manager Pep Guardiola in an extremely tricky position: How do you improve on a perfect season?
Regardless of who is managing the team and what players a club has at its disposal, claiming a treble is a huge ask – one that Guardiola should never be required to do.
Yet, after the Champion’s League semifinal exit to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid, Guardiola has been labelled by many as a failure. Some people have even said that he has Bayern moving in the wrong direction.
This is complete and utter nonsense.
Guardiola had a near impossible task – he had to take a treble-winning side and somehow make it even better. And yet, for large parts of this season, he looked to have done that.
Bayern had claimed two trophies by January (the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup, both of which they qualified for by winning the Champion’s League last season) and were rampant in the Bundesliga, on course to beat the record that they set in the season prior.
Pep had changed Bayern’s style completely; under Heynckes, Bayern were almost the anti-Barca, using their direct approach to dismantle the Blaugrauna in last year’s Champion’s League semifinal.
But under Guardiola, Bayern have become Barcelona 2.0, using ideals from his historic Barcelona team and applying them to his intelligent crop of players to achieve a similar outcome: Bayern absolute dominate matches.
While last season the Germans would blow teams away with attacking prowess, this season Bayern are much different – the Bavarians suffocate the opposition, controlling the possession of the ball (with some staggering possession figures) and patiently probing for an opening.
It may not be as exciting as last season’s approach, but it is certainly effective.
This approach helped Bayern set a Bundesliga record: the club clinched the Bundesliga trophy on March 25 after a victory over Hertha Berlin, only 27 games into the season, setting the record for the faster ever league win.
Bayern completed 992 out of 1063 passes that match, setting a Bundeslida record for the most completed passes in a match.
And they did it in style too. Bayern completed 992/1063 passes (93%) in a 3-1 win over Hertha. Quite brilliant. pic.twitter.com/Tm9LMwplhV
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 26, 2014
Nobody was complaining about Guardiola’s methods then.
Since then, Bayern have admittedly dipped in form domestically. Although with the league already sealed and absolutely nothing to play for, it is understandable to see complacency.
But it was the Champion’s League 5-0 aggregate exit to Real Madrid that saw Guardiola receive the most flak.
Over two legs, Bayern completely controlled possession, starving Madrid of the ball as often as they could. But Bayern’s over-patient nature and Madrid’s ruthless counter-attacking saw the Bavarians on the end of an extremely disappointing semifinal exit.
Since then, many have questioned Guardiola’s approach.
It is true: possession is worth nothing if you can’t turn your dominance of the ball into goals. Madrid had only a third of the possession over two legs, yet they carved Bayern open repeatedly. Bayern had the lion’s share of the ball, yet failed to create many quality chances.
It was a disappointing way to go out of the competition, and it is certainly something that Pep Guardiola needs to think about – there must be a Plan B, because Madrid clearly identified a way to exploit the system.
But that hardly means that Guardiola has failed. There isn’t a team in the world who is perfect, otherwise, what would the point be in even watching football? There will always be flaws in a team, and any system can be countered.
Bayern made the Champion’s League semifinals; a feat that is fantastic in itself. On top of that, they achieved their primary goal of defending the Bundesliga title, and they did so in record-breaking fashion.
Bayern also play Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final, and even if they were to fail, that too would be a good achievement.
The truth is that the world is expecting too much from Guardiola: the man is a genius, and is certainly capable of pulling in multiple trophies each season (which he already has done for Bayern).
But that doesn’t mean that he should be expected to. Success in football can’t be taken for granted.
Guardiola is building something at Bayern. The squad is outstanding and is constantly improving and learning.
He’s already won three trophies, and may add a fourth by the end of the season. How he can be branded a failure is beyond me.
He may not have won everything possible this season (although he’s come pretty damn close) but for anybody to deem this year a disappointment is just plain ridiculous.
Pep has been, and will continue to be, a success.