opinions | 2015-03-27
The Pep Episodes (I)
No Robben and The Struggle with Counterattacks
Pep Guardiola’s return to Barcelona and the Camp Nou he left just about three years ago was much anticipated. The Bayern coach, who attended Futbol Club Barcelona vs Manchester City in the Champions League, chose to use his season ticket rather than go by invitation of the Barcelona board to the director's box due to differences with the club’s current administration. After he witnessed a tremendous game by Barça and especially by Lionel Messi, Guardiola left early, so there were no indications he crossed path with Bartomeu, Faus, or other executives of the board.
Clearly, Guardiola didn’t want to speak about his former club – he wanted to attend a game, apparently enjoyed himself on the stands, but that’s it. He didn’t want to give the media even more reason for excited reports, the buzz was already high enough. And the buzz continues, even non-Barcelona-related ones.
Back in Germany, Pep returned to his daily routine. The same could not be said of his team, however, because on Sunday, his side Bayern Munich lost 0-2 to a reactive Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Allianz Arena, their first home defeat in the Bundesliga this season.
The talk in Germany after the unexpected and equally uninspired loss is all about counterattacks – once again. It’s the same talk after every (rare) defeat. Because the threat to Bayern’s game is all the same: The vulnerability to counterattacks.
“They played as we analyzed it before,” said Thomas Müller after the game – and still the Bavarians didn’t manage the game to contain the fastbreak danger on one side of the pitch and create enough opportunities on the other side. They suffered a bad loss to VfL Wolfsburg in the first game after the winter break (1-4), and you could see the same symptoms against Mönchengladbach once again.
“Guardiola needs a plan,” said sports magazine Kicker’s headline, pointing out that Bayern didn’t have “any ideas without Ribery and Robben”, while newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung noticed a “desire for the whirlwind“, referring to the absent Robben. The Dutchman got hurt and will miss a couple of weeks with a torn abdominal muscle, while Ribery wasn’t fully fit yet. Without Robben, Bayern’s performances have dipped this season: The in-form winger missed seven-and-a-half games and Bayern just won four of them. In the absence of Robben and Ribery, the Germans lacked penetration and individual brilliance in the final third. Or as Süddeutsche Zeitung puts it: “Bayern’s possession football loses its authenticity and gets sluggish.”
Guardiola has concerns in defense and midfield as well: Bayern are still prone to get caught on the break; the midfield pair Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso is often considered slow. German media is still wondering if the experienced duo can go well together in the center of the pitch. They orchestrated play against Wolfsburg and Gladbach, and the results are pretty telling. Even if Guardiola points out that he doesn’t necessarily need “quick legs” in midfield, because “quick minds” is what matters. Against Gladbach, Bayern lacked both. The next opponent for the German champions are Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. Against Jürgen Klopps’ high-pressing and hard-running outfit, Bayern surely need quick legs and minds – both in attack and defense. Guardiola has to figure out a plan.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
The Pep Episodes are a weekly column about the adventures of Pep Guardiola in Munich contributed by Alex Truica. You can follow him on twitter: @kicker_atr
WRITTEN BY: Alex Truica
Creator of The Pep Episodes. Has a Bachelor degree in journalism and works as a freelance sports journalist and editor, covering international football.