Pep Guardiola’s Third Season at Bayern- Champions League Trophy or Bust?

Last week a picture began doing the rounds in the German press and on social media of Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola on his first day at the Bavarian giants. Taken inside the home dressing room at the Allianz Arena, behind him hung the shirts and photos of six star players. Two years on though, and all six of those players have left the club (Claudio Pizarro, Toni Kroos, Mario Mandžukić, Mario Gomez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bastian Schweinsteiger).

peppy

It’s a sign that Pep has restructured the Bayern squad to his own design and philosophy with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcântara, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze added since his arrival in 2013.

Two years on and Guardiola enters his third (and potentially final) season as Bayern coach with work still to be done and people still to convince. Despite delivering the Bundesliga title in both his seasons thus far, the former Barcelona supremo has twice stumbled at the semi-final stage of the Champions League, and despite his history of success, has not been immune from criticism.

The speculation will grow this coming season as to whether Pep will extend his tenure as Bayern coach, particularly should Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini struggle to bring success to the club’s super-rich owners.

There are two questions that need to be addressed here: Has Guardiola made Bayern better over the past two seasons? And what will be deemed a successful season this time around?

So far, so……good?

Coming in to replace the treble-winning Jupp Heynckes meant that Pep was always going to be on a hiding to nothing in his first season. How could he possibly improve on perfection? Winning the Club World Cup, while a trophy, was Heynckes trophy in all honesty, but winning the Bundesliga, the DFB Pokal and the European Super Cup wasn’t a bad return on his first season in Germany.

“This was a very difficult year for me, my first in Germany, so four titles is good,” Guardiola said at the time. “We have to keep working. There is much work left to do.

“I still have not managed to form the team according to my vision. It is, after all, my first year.”

The one major blip on his first season’s record was the semi-final exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid. The 4-0 debacle at the Allianz Arena in the second-leg cruelly exposed Bayern and dented the aura around the persona of Guardiola.

Bayern set about last season like an unstoppable juggernaut wrapping up the league title with ease. Unbeaten in the Hinrunde and with an 11 point lead over Wolfsburg, the second half of the season saw them taking their foot off the gas a little and suffering five defeats.

Despite a 25th title, former player Lothar Matthaus for one wasn’t totally convinced. “Guardiola has already said that their season is over and he’s been rotating his team so much that he’s unsettling the team.

“His team no longer has the stability they had for over eight months, enchanting football fans up and down Germany. It seems the players are losing a bit of belief in the coach, and he hadn’t expected that” Matthaus moaned.

Once again, despite domestic dominance, Guardiola was unable to take the Bavarians past the semi-final stage of the Champions League and again the manner and scale of the defeat to Barcelona was a real shock to the system.

A 3-0 loss at the Nou Camp, where Pep’s (brave/suicidal) tactics were seriously called into question gave them an up-hill task ahead of the second leg. A 3-2 home victory was a boost to morale only and didn’t prevent a second successive exit at the hands of Spanish opposition.

Prior to Guardiola’s arrival, Bayern had reached three Champions League finals in four years. Since his arrival they had fallen at the semi-final hurdle both years.

The Spanish/ Barca style that he has imposed at Bayern has not been good enough to beat the Spanish sides he has faced at the crunch stages of the Champions League. Comparisons with Heynckes are understandably made and Guardiola detractors point to the 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the 2013 semis.

Domestically Pep has delivered, but at the elite European level, his Bayern side have fallen short and a word not usually in his lexicon has been bandied around- ‘failure’.

Are Bayern better under Guardiola? A different beast certainly, but better? The jury is still out on that one.

Bayern expects

trophyWith two years behind him to mould the side to his ways, it’s time for Guardiola to deliver the Champions League back to Bavaria. That will be the demand from large swathes of expectant fans and those in the corridors of power at the Sabener Strasse.

The pre-season began with a false dawn with Bayern finishing last out of four teams in the Telekom Cup so there is clearly work to be done. The new campaign begins with the DFL SuperCup match against Wolfsburg on August 1 followed by their DFB Pokal first round fixture at FC Nöttingen eight days later before their league opener at home August 14 against Hamburg .

Speaking recently Guardiola revealed his motivation saying: “If you want to know what I want in life and from my work, I want to be loved. I do not seek more. That’s what I want, that’s a feeling. Really, I’m not looking for titles.”

That may provide a nice soundbite and give the Catalan a human face, but the love he seeks in Bavaria will be more freely given should he deliver the Champions League that he was hired to win. Three attempts and three misses would probably mean that the Spaniard wouldn’t be given a fourth go.

Last season’s Bundesliga triumph was achieved at a canter, but there is reason to believe that there may be a harder challenge awaiting them this year. Wolfsburg’s win in the first game of last season’s Rückrunde showed that on their day they were more than a match for Bayern. They have strengthened their squad this summer, and if they can hang on to Kevin De Bruyne, will once again prove a title rival. Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen should also provide a challenge, while Borussia Dortmund and Schalke will expect to have a much better campaign in the 2015/2016 season.

Club legend Bastian Schweinsteiger has gone, while rumours persist that Thomas Müller for one is not totally behind Guardiola’s way of doing things so it is a time of uncertainty at the Allianz Arena. Anything other than plain sailing in the early weeks of the season will bring the doom-mongers out in force and up the pressure on the Bayern coach.

The league will be taken for granted and progression from the group stages of the Champions League will be seen as a given. What happens in the later rounds and Bayern’s ability to break their recent semi-final hoodoo will largely determine the end-of-season judgement as to Bayern’s (and Pep’s) success.

To many, three successive league titles would equate to great success (what any Schalke or Liverpool fan would give for just one), but at Bayern the stakes and the demands are that much higher.

Could it be a case of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for Pep Guardiola at Bayern? The next face disappearing from the photo of Guardiola in the Bayern changing room could in fact be Pep himself.

A fascinating season awaits.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.