Guardiola must guard against attack of the critics

Pep Guardiola is under heavy fire after Bayern's loss in the Champions League semifinal. (AFP)

Pep Guardiola is under heavy fire after Bayern's loss in the Champions League semifinal. (AFP)

It is at times like these when, for a manager, the world can seem a dark place. As methods are pilloried, tactics crucified and past glories forgotten, friends can feel like foes and adversaries appear as assassins.

When criticism is flying at you from all angles, self-belief is the only solace. How Pep Guardiola needs such resolve at this moment.
Bayern Munich’s 4-0 capitulation at the hands of Real Madrid must surely represent a crushing nadir in his already glittering career. Now, where previously Bayern were hailed as the world’s most menacing side, the heart of Bavaria is rocking.

Yet one man’s tactical acumen, proved beyond doubt to be ruthlessly effective in recent years at Barcelona, does not suddenly disappear over the course of 90 minutes, no matter how emphatic a defeat. The knives are certainly out for Guardiola, whose reputation was dealt a serious blow by Carlo Ancelotti, yet he remains undoubtedly the manager of the modern era.

Slap in the face
“We got a slap in the face, it was a debacle what we experienced here,” said the Bayern president, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, after the 5-0 aggregate loss, also labelling the performance a “fiasco”. Others have gleefully revelled in the perceived demise of a possession-based approach and scribed damning epitaphs of the short-passing game.

All this came as a result of a desperately poor performance from Bayern, who left themselves vulnerable at set pieces and terribly exposed on the counterattack. There is little doubt it was one of their worst results in recent memory.

For Bayern, though, the off-season will allow for a period of reflection. Winning the Bundesliga with seven matches remaining proved an ill-fated success, with four defeats coming in the eight matches that followed, but it remains a fine achievement and with the German Cup final still to come.

The arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund will be a significant boost, bringing a proven goalscorer to the club and more potency in attack to help Mario Mandzukic, who was withdrawn at half-time against Madrid after a poor 45 minutes.

Failing to score in two matches is arguably the most worrying fact for Guardiola, and the Spaniard blamed himself for the defeat, saying players were in the wrong positions and questioning whether the current squad is suited to the style of play he wants to instil.

Drastic change
Yet claims that his entire approach is flawed are certainly misguided. There were serious errors in the performance, most notably a lack of an alternative tactic, but Guardiola has been at the club for only a year.

Jupp Heynckes’s side may have been all-conquering and imperious on their way to the Champions League title last season but no team has defended the trophy since Milan in 1990. Compound that with a drastic change in coaching direction and securing a second European title in two years was always going to be a daunting challenge.

Changing too much too quickly is one valid criticism that could be pointed at Guardiola. However, 14 trophies in four years in Catalonia, crafting arguably the most talented club side in history, is an achievement that currently risks being belittled by one, albeit alarming, defeat.

“There’s no valid argument for my system after this result and you can say what you want of course. But I can’t change what I feel,” said Guardiola after the loss. “I like to play with the ball. We just didn’t play with the ball together.”

Keeping faith in his methods appears inevitable. Firstly, though, Guardiola has to ride out the storm. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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