In modern days anyone with access to technology and a bit of free time, is able to write and/or give opinions about virtually any subject (i.e. Internet forums, newspapers commentary boxes, etc). Football being probably one of the most followed subject around the globe is not therefore immune to this trend. The downfall of this, is that readers and football fans are flooded with opinions, some of them useful and well researched/documented, but the vast majority based on…the last result or preconceived ideas that the reader/fan has about a specific team/player/coach. I like to think that my reflective thoughts written here belong to the first group.
Guardiola after the first leg against FC Porto for the last 16 of the Champions League (2014/2015), was considered to be ‘the most overrated manager in history’ (you can read it here ). The answer he gave to the world, as if he needed, would come a week later (this actually has been written by me, a FC Porto fan, since I remember myself).
To put things clear, I believe there are two different ways of beating the current Bayern. Either you try to disrupt their 1st phase of construction and control with the precision of a Swiss clock, the depth of whole team (Distance between the last line and the first man in pressure) plus keeping the ball; or you get lucky, score two goals from set-pieces and then later in the game, you find Bayern out of balance in a defense-attack transition and then score (yes Real Madrid 2013/2014). But even if this in theory, could be a good strategy to beat them, the truth is that Bayern has a variety of solutions, in tactical terms that I dare to say, you do not see in any other team in the World. And if this is not merit of Guardiola then I do not know who the credit should be given to.
In the first leg, Bayern in their first phase of construction used 2 players, Dante and Boateng, plus Xabi Alonso would drop to make a line of 3. In this case it is clear that the movement of Xabi is in fact, the pressing reference for Jackson Martinez (as you see the work of a striker is much more than scoring goals). However the three goals scored on the first leg, could not be considered merit of Lopetegui’s strategy for 2 reasons:
- The first goal is 50/50, merit of Martinez, plus bad touch of Xabi, plus the referee not to blow the whistle against FC Porto, as the tackle could be easily considered foul; the second and third goal are also individual errors from Dante and Boateng;
- The action of Martinez is actually individual pressure and not pressing (collective action). He tried to chase a ball that had little chance to steal and create a scoring opportunity.
Taking into account what empirical studies have proven so far (i.e. Carvalhal, Chris Anderson, etc…), football is the game where roughly only half of the times the stronger team wins. For example, games like basketball or baseball, this margin is stretched to values over 60%. This suggests that there are just too many variables to control in the game (some people call it luck), and therefore the coach cannot be responsible for all of them. You may help a player to develop his skills, but this will not eliminate the possibility of a player to have a first bad touch in a game scenario, no matter how hard you train.
You can watch here the first leg highlights which I am referring to.
So what did Guardiola do on the second leg?
Simply took Xabi Alonso out of the 1st phase of construction, started to build up from the back with Rafinha, Boateng and Badstuber and created chaos on pressing references of FC Porto. With this simple tweak, Jackson did not know what to do (should press or retreat), the same goes for the wingers Brahimi and Quaresma, and then combining the space between sectors that Lopetegui’s side left for Bayern to construct plus the individual and collective quality of Bayern did the rest.
They can build up from the back, but if they are under pressure they can also play out of pressure zones with equal effectiveness. And now I wonder, if this is not merit of Guardiola, then who is it? The variables he can control like the game model, how his game principles and ideas articulate, are all there. His work is there for anyone to see, if you bother to look for them. FC Porto and his coach took 45 min to understand these subtle tweaks, and that cost them 5-0 (along with individual mistakes from Fabiano and deflected shots – again external variables). But in my opinion, Guardiola also proved another thing: is that he is a step ahead of almost everyone else (Jorge Jesus implied a year ago something similar) because he answered to a very difficult question to most of the coaches around the world: should one team adapts to the other or keep their principles of play? He showed that the two things can be done at the same time.
Second leg can be watched here
P.S. – Allegri (and 99% of English coaches), is man-marking working well for you? (Here starts at 0:31’’).