Cup Triumph Caps Off Great First Season For Guardiola

Well, it was not without its controversies but Bayern Munich won their 17th German Cup and 10th domestic double in club history with their 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund in Saturday’s final.

Mats Hummels’ disallowed goal will no doubt be the major talking point about this final for years to come, but it as also a successful cap on what has been a truly fantastic first season for Pep Guardiola in charge of Bayern.

The former Barcelona coach has come under a lot of criticism as of late, for his tactical tinkering, and the disappointing elimination at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. Although Bayern won the league in record time the early celebrations allowed complacency to creep in and their form dipped as a result.

But if Guardiola is responsible for that complacency, which he himself has owed up to, then he very well should be given credit for Bayern’s Cup win and fantastic domestic campaign.

Likewise, if Guardiola’s tactical experimentation paved the way for Bayern’s stumbling form since March that same tactical experimentation was responsible for their impressive performance and eventual win in Berlin.

As he has done throughout the season, Guardiola again surprised everyone by fielding a lineup that many could not quite figure out at first. Journalists, supporters and onlookers worldwide were left guessing how Bayern would line up when starting lineups were announced.

Where would Lahm play? If in midfield who would play on the left in Alaba’s place? Where would surprise-starter Hojbjerg line up? Who would play up top in Mandzukic’s absence, Gotze or Muller? Suffice to say, there was no shortage of questions going into the game.

Klopp has kept his lineup consistent for the most part and with Bayern facing so many key absences the advantage almost seemed to fall in Dortmund’s favor this time around, especially with the 3-0 win against them in the league not too far behind. The momentum certainly did not favor Bayern.

Yet that did not prevent Guardiola from fielding what eventually most closely resembled a 3-4-1-2. A three-man backline? In a Cup final? Surely that was madness. Javi Martinez got the start, as many were calling for, but instead of playing him there Guardiola put him in the center of a three-man backline.

Hojbjerg, who has barely gotten any playing time this season, was used as a right wing-back with Rafinha switching to the left, a position which he has not started in a single time this season. When Lahm was eventually replaced with injury, Ribery came in and played in central midfield, an area of the field which was ultimately left to Toni Kroos alone as Bayern looked to outnumber Dortmund in their own half.

All the changes, all the risks, all the calculations. They all paid off. Guardiola stabilized the defense and got one of the best individual performances of the season out of Javi Martinez. He neutralized Dortmund’s counter attacks by playing two wing-backs that forced Dortmund to attack through the middle. And he found the right combination of pace and finishing up front with Muller, Robben and Gotze.

It’s a formation that we may not see again much next season but it was a stroke of tactical genius from one of the most adventurous coaches in the modern game. It was proof-positive that Bayern’s success lay not in Jupp Heynckes’ winning formula but has a future under Guardiola’s tactical evolution.

Most importantly, it ensured that Bayern finished with two trophies and another semifinal appearance in the Champions League. The difference between a league trophy, that became forgotten by many, and a domestic double as a result of beating their biggest domestic rivals is glaring.

This season, and now more than ever before, the German Cup holds more weight with Dortmund around. And Guardiola pulled a rabbit out of a hat with his formation and win against Dortmund. What could have been a demoralizing match in light of all the changes, Lahm’s early departure and Dortmund’s missed goal, turned into one of the team’s strongest showings of the year.

Guardiola kickstarted Bayern’s season, expanded on Heynckes’ great work to win the league in record time, and laid the foundations for Bayern’s tactical evolution and team development.

Exciting times ahead for Germany’s record champions.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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