A treble winner taking charge of treble winners was always likely to create a formidable side, and there are questionably echoes of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in this Bayern Munich side.
But what are the main differences between Pep’s Barca and Pep’s Bayern? Here are five major differences.
1 – The use of a proper number nine
While Pep Guardiola eventually fell out with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, his initial recruitment of the Swedish centre-forward demonstrated he was keen to give variety to Barcelona’s attacks. Although things didn’t work out, to a certain extent it was because of circumstantial reasons: the breakdown of their personal relationship, and Lionel Messi’s development into a ruthless goalscorer.
It still seemed to turn Guardiola against proper number nines, however, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas sometimes used upfront thereafter. At Bayern, while Guardiola has the option of playing with a half-forward like Thomas Muller or a false nine like Mario Gotze, he’s generally favoured the use of Mario Mandzukic, and has sanctioned the move for Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, too.
Mandzukic was superb against Arsenal at the Emirates last year, leading the pressing and dropping back to keep his side compact. He might be a number nine, but he’s a selfless worker too.
2 – The ability to counter-attack
Guardiola’s Barcelona were entirely based around possession football, and while Messi could sometimes charge forward solo to turn defence into attack, often Barcelona would turn down opportunities to break, instead preferring to slow the tempo and assert their control.
Bayern are rather different, and with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery (injured for this evening’s game) both pacey threats on the flanks, Guardiola has given his players more license to break quickly and ruthlessly. He’s found a nice balance between the possession football he favoured at Barca, and the counter-attacking Bayern have used brilliantly during European competition in recent years.
Against Arsenal this could be vital – Liverpool demolished the Arsenal backline when breaking at speed in the recent 5-1 win at Anfield, but found it trickier to break through a packed defence last weekend. Guardiola will have studied those contests in great detail.
3 – More strength
In fairness, this factor is only partly true. At some points with Barcelona, Guardiola fielded the likes of Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Gerard Pique, Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sergio Busquets, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o – all strong, powerful players.
But Henry, Eto’o and Ibrahimovic were cast aside, Abidal had health problems, Puyol’s fitness levels declined and Keita was used less after Cesc Fabregas’ arrival. Sometimes Barcelona were fielding an astonishing array of short players, down to using Javier Mascherano at centre-back. While their incredible possession play usually compensated for this shortcoming, there was an obvious way to expose Barcelona.
That’s not such an issue at Bayern, where the likes of Dante, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic are all excellent aerially, with Javi Martinez another option when Guardiola desires physicality. Even David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, generally considered neat technical players, are considerable units, all around the 6’0 mark.
Compared to Barcelona’s band of 5’7 midgets, it’s a very different proposition, and Guardiola’s Bayern are never bullied physically.
4 – More diverse attacking options
The Ibrahimovic experiment aside, Guardiola’s Barcelona only attacked in one way – reserve options were simply similar versions of first-choices, because they’d come through La Masia learning the same principles. It was rare that a Guardiola substitution saw Barcelona bringing on an entirely different type of player – Alexis Sanchez for David Villa, or Bojan Krcic for Pedro Rodriguez is hardly introducing something new to the equation.
Bayern, however, have different options in almost every position. Upfront, Mandzukic is a pure striker, Gotze a false nine, Miller somewhere in between. On the left, Robben goes down the line, Ribery cuts inside more while dribbling, and Muller will float around looking for space. In the attacking midfield role, Gotze is a dribbler, Kroos a measured passer, and Martinez – used there against Dortmund – almost a supplementary central striker.
There is simply more for Guardiola to work with, more ways he can surprise the opposition – and he tends to spring those surprises in big games.
5 – Less purity
Despite Bayern’s brilliance, they’re not as pure or cohesive as Guardiola’s Barcelona. For all the minor criticisms of that side: that they lacked physicality, a plan B and were sometimes too obsessed with possession football, it was nevertheless the most co-ordinated, intricate side you’re ever likely to see, and they revolutionised football with their emphasis upon technical quality.
Bayern don’t yet boast movement as effective as Barcelona’s, which was perhaps the major quality that stemmed from so many players growing up in the academy. They all knew which positions to take, which runs to make, and how to respond when their teammates received the ball in certain situations. Pedro was the master of this – and once said that in training, you could always tell which players didn’t grow up at La Masia, because their movement wasn’t quite right.
Bayern are slightly more individualistic, and while a wonderful attacking side, don’t rival Barcelona’s sheer artistry under Guardiola.
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