Analysing Bayern Munich's regression under Pep Guardiola
Another year, another Bundesliga title for Bayern Munich. For the last three seasons, two of those under Spaniard Pep Guardiola, Bayern have dominated the league and cruised to a hat-trick of titles with very little competition. Guardiola has clearly achieved a great deal of success with the Bavarian club. But if you compare his side to that of his predecessor, Jupp Heynckes, it appears that Bayern’s star is waning, and they are actually regressing under Pep.
The most obvious example of Bayern’s lessening success under Guardiola is to look at their Champions League record. Under Heynckes, they claimed a fifth Champions League title, famously thrashing Guardiola’s Barcelona side 7-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals as Bayern took on the mantle of Europe’s number one team. In the following two seasons, though, it has been Bayern who have been on the end of the thrashings in Europe. Real Madrid handed them a 4-0 spanking at the Allianz Arena in last year’s semi-final, and this season Lionel Messi took them apart in a 3-0 triumph for Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Whilst reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League twice in tow seasons is still a fine achievement, the results Bayern have achieved when getting there have been embarrassing to say the least. They used to dish out the thrashings under Heynckes, under Guardiola, they’re taking them.
It is not just Europe where Bayern’s flaws are on show, with some cracks emerging prominently in their domestic league as well. Last season, Guardiola won the Bundesliga with seven games to spare and unbeaten up until that point. Carrying on from Heynckes, Bayern had just lost one game in almost two seasons. In the year since, Bayern have lost seven league games. Whilst the majority of these defeats have come after their coronation as champions, this habit of taking their foot off the gas has led to a loss in momentum, and is one of the main factors for their recent struggles in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Replacing Heynckes with Guardiola has meant that Bayern are now a very consistent side. Bayern’s 2014-15 title has been based on the ability to easily defeat teams that are much worse than they are, dropping just 5 points against the bottom twelve sides in the division, with their defeat at Freiburg coming last weekend, well after their crowning as champions.
However, against the top 6, FC Bayern have struggled massively this season. Were the top 6 split up into their own mini league, Bayern would be bottom. This comes from teams knowing how to face Guardiola. In his days at Barcelona, his tiki-taka football was so fresh and new that nobody knew how to stop. At Bayern, teams have had almost seven seasons to work out Guardiola’s tactics and seen that attacking his sides often reaps rewards. The reason that Bayern have such a strong record against the bottom 12, but such a poor one against the top 6 is down to teams being able to pull of this risky strategy. More opposition managers seem to work out how to beat Guardiola every season, and this is resulting in a weakening of the dominance of Bayern Munich.
This slide is far from terminal for Bayern, though, and some of the blame for the struggles (if you can call it that) for 2014/15 have come from an unfortunate amount of injuries. Arjen Robben, their best player, has missed Bayern’s less than impressive end to the season with a calf problem, whilst other important players such as Javi Martinez and Franck Ribery have also been absent, something keenly felt by Guardiola on big occasions. Had these players been available to Pep, it is unlikely Bayern would have finished the season so poorly.
Although Guardiola has been missing some key names, he still has by far the deepest squad in Germany, and their form should not have been so badly affected. Their squad still contains the bulk of the German world cup winning team, as well as other quality players such as David Alaba, Robert Lewandowski and Xabi Alonso. Their squad, even when depleted is not the problem, but the way Guardiola uses it can be. He continues to deploy Philipp Lahm, probably the world’s best full back, in a wasted central midfield position, whilst leaving David Alaba (an attacking midfielder for Austria) and Rafinha (a thoroughly average right-back) covering Bayern in the full back positions. Furthermore, against Barcelona in the Champions League, Guardiola misjudged his tactics and tried to go man-for-man on their frightening front 3, resulting in them being ripped to shreds. Tactically, Guardiola appears to be making some errors that are resulting in unnecessary defeats for the team.
Overall, Bayern Munich are a worse side under Pep Guardiola than they were under Jupp Heynckes. Better teams have grown used to Guardiola’s style and are able to exploit Bayern by attacking them with pace and power, which is clear to see when looking at Bayern’s results against the top 6 of the Bundesliga. They have been thrashed in the semi-finals of the Champions League in consecutive seasons, much in the same way that Bayern destroyed Barcelona in 2012/13. Guardiola’s Bayern are not as strong as Heynckes’, and are slowly being worked out by the Bundesliga. The continuing improvements of teams such as the functional Wolfsburg and the exciting Borussia Mönchengladbach mean that next season Bayern will face more stringent competition to hold onto their league title, and should they continue to regress, their position as the dominant team in Germany could soon be under threat.
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