Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola crowned 100 days in charge of the club with one of the team’s most impressive performances yet this season. The 3-1 win at Manchester City sees them sit comfortable atop their Champions League group and in glowing form. For Guardiola it also further underlined that his style and methodology is taking firm shape at the club.
Guardiola only made one change from the team that beat Wolfsburg 1-0 at the weekend, resting Mario Mandzukic and starting Toni Kroos. Thomas Müller played as the lone striker in the usual 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 hybrid. Philipp Lahm continued as the midfield anchor with Kroos and Schweinsteiger the de facto playmakers in front of him. Manuel Pellegrini, who never beat Guardiola in his time in Spain, made four changes following their 3-2 loss to Aston Villa, starting Micah Richards, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy and Aguero. Pellegrini is hoping to translate City’s recent domestic success to the European stage and this was by far their biggest test.
Control the tempo, control the game
It’s a truism embedded deep in Guardiola’s philosophy and Bayern did brilliantly to make sure City always followed them instead of the other way around. From the start, it was Bayern’s rhythmic passing and possession game that dictated the pace and direction of the play. Steered impressively by Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos especially, Bayern dominated possession in the first half (76:24) and outshot City 9:2.
The quick manner in which Bayern also changed the pace of the game also went a long way in deciding this game. From the almost hypnotic passing of the ball in their own half and around the center circle to quick diagonal balls, Bayern caught City out of position several times. Ribery always found space on the left after City shifted right and vice versa. Bayern’s first goal came form a diagonal ball that Ribery then took and out of nowhere released a long distance shot that beat Joe Hart at the near post.
Similarly, the second goal from Thomas Müller also came when Dante played a great diagonal ball over the top that beat City’s offside trap to set him up one-on-one with Hart. Four minutes later Bayern won the ball in midfield and immediately released Robben on the right who smashed home the third. Bayern’s ability to switch tempos and change of plays without hesitation was a big reason they won the treble last year and Guardiola’s added element of retention and ironing out small details has made them arguably even stronger.
3 on 2 in midfield
Pellegrini’s teams are usually very good on the counter but in this game they rarely had the opportunity to because as soon as they won the ball back they ended up giving it away again. Part of this was down to Bayern’s intense pressing from the kickoff and another was that City’s midfielders were constantly outnumbered. Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Kroos outmanned and outpassed Toure and Fernandinho. On top of that, Ribery’s growing central role also chipped in to the point where Bayern were seeing up to 80% of the ball at times.
The synchronicity and variety in Bayern’s attacks: Ribery and Robben cutting in, the overlapping fullbacks, Schweinsteiger and Kroos finding room and passing lanes, all overwhelmed and confused City’s backline and midfield. And with little defensive help from their strikers they were often left outnumbered or out of position. The introduction of James Milner in the second half helped settle the game somewhat for City and one would ask why another midfielder wasn’t brought on earlier. The change also turned some of the pressure over to Bayern who conceded a goal and had Boateng sent off.
That begs the question; did Pellegrini get his tactics wrong from the start? There were certainly a few changes that could have been made in hindsight. Perhaps starting Zabaleta and Milner could have helped in tightening up in midfield and getting a better grip on Robben but Bayern also executed their game to perfection, especially in the first half. Guardiola is really beginning to put his stamp on this Bayern team.
Heynckes’ Bayern is slowly becoming Guardiola’s Bayern
Pep Guardiola: “We played very well. We pressed well and we won the second balls.”
Arjen Robben: “We certainly didn’t expect it to go so easily. That is of course a huge compliment to the team.”
Jerome Boateng: “I was the last man and I got to the ball a second too late. But the important thing of course is that we won.”
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