Everybody has pulled out the knives and Pep Guardiola carefully watches his back. To take over any team that just won a treble is a major task, even for a relatively experienced coach like Guardiola. Despite Bayern winning the Bundesliga weeks ago and a German Cup final looming, a 4-0 loss at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi hurts. In fact, many have called into question the so called “tiki taka” football, but a closer look at tactics shows possession is not to blame.
First, the backdrop. Bayern only lost the first leg away 1-0, so the team could conceivably have cruised to a cautious, tight, 0-0 stalemate at halftime in this game and then bombed bodies forwards with 30 minutes left. They only needed to score a goal to force extra time. And, if they got that first goal late, then the momentum could have carried them to a second one. While Thiago is injured, both Philip Lahm and Javy Martinez can play holding mid. Bayern had plenty of options.
And that’s why it’s shocking that Pep picked a 4-2-3-1 with Kroos and Schweinsteiger as the two nominal “holding” mids, neither of whom does much tackling. He clearly favored a proactive, attacking option. There was just one problem: Dani Carvajal and Fabio Coentrao did an excellent job of shackling Ribery and Robben. In the center, Mandzukic is the type of lumbering, immobile forward that Pepe loves to duel. Thomas Mueller may have found pockets of space, but he was often too far from the box to cause much harm.
The result was a stalled Bayern offense that ironically spread itself too wide and ergo thin. Madrid’s counterattack carved them to pieces. This was not an indictment of tiki taka, just a team that failed to change gears from offense-to-defense and lacking a cutting edge. Player selection, not philosophy, were Bayern’s undoing. Of course, if Javy Martinez had started, he could conceivably have marked Sergio Ramos on freekicks and stopped both goals. After he came on at halftime, Bayern did a better job of breaking up attacks and the game’s rhythm slowed to a waltz.
Still, Bayern’s lack of a world class striker hurt them most: Mandzukic is a ferocious battler, but troubles nobody with his movement. Mueller is graceful on and off the ball, but seldom rolls up his sleeve to get his hands dirty. Some games, they play like together yin and yang, today only the weaknesses in their games shined bright for all to see. Lewandowski can’t arrive early enough.