Successive domestic titles have failed to mask the blotch on Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich: the absence of a Champions League winners’ medal. We look at their escape against Juventus in the last 16 and what it means for the Germans and their high-profile manager…
Bayern Munich are indebted to Thomas Muller, after the reliable forward struck in the 91st minute to send their tie with Juventus in the Champions League last 16 into extra-time. With momentum firmly in their camp, Pep Guardiola’s side marched on to claim a 6-4 aggregate win at the Allianz Arena.
It could have been so different.
For 70 minutes, Juventus kept their flair-ridden hosts at bay with stoic defensive organisation, and repeatedly ripped them apart on the break. But the introduction of Kingsley Coman – rather awkwardly owned by Juve – shortly before the hour changed the game’s complexion, with the 19-year-old laying on Muller’s equaliser before starring in the additional period.
Bayern’s hopes of an elusive Champions League crown under Guardiola may remain on track, but their trophy-winning credentials are now under stern examination.- Champions League 2016 – AFP
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WHAT GUARDIOLA SAID
“I know what will come towards me in the coming months should we lose,” Guardiola said in the aftermath, all too aware of the criticism that will ensue should Bayern fail in their hunt for European glory.
“I don’t care who we play next. If you want to reach the semi-finals then you have to be ready to beat any opponent,” he said.
“But we are there. We made it. A minute later and we would have been out.”
QUESTION MARKS REMAIN OVER BAYERN
Defensively, they are suspect. It’s all very well blowing teams apart domestically – and even that has not happened of late – but if you don’t have firm foundations, you will always creak when it matters.
Alvaro Morata’s solo dart for Juventus’ second goal saw him beat, or draw across, the entire Bayern defence before assisting Juan Cuadrado. Mehdi Benatia may not be trusted by Guardiola again; David Alaba had his most torrid outing in a Bayern shirt. Against Barcelona, it would have been game over.
We saw a similar pattern last season when the Spaniards took Guardiola’s ultra-aggressive tactics apart at the semi-final stage in Camp Nou. There’s no harm in committing men forward, but Bayern flounder when hit by lightning counter-attacks constructed by the best opposition. The end result: Bayern win the majority of their games, but not the one or two that really matter.
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WHY THIS COULD STILL BE BAYERN’S YEAR
The close shave against Juventus is a gentle reminder to Guardiola that counter-attacking specialists will expose his Bayern defence. Keeping it slightly tighter, with the midfield closer to the defence, should prevent another Morata calamity. They still possess enough attacking threat to allow a more cautious approach on the continent.
Perversely, below-par performances could also help them. Much of their problem in recent seasons has stemmed from peaking too soon, with the domestic title race a foregone conclusion. Now, with Borussia Dortmund in hot pursuit, they have enough interest on home soil to carry momentum into Europe.
Assuming Bayern come through a one-in-seven shot of facing Barcelona in the next round, they will squeeze through their quarter-final. Their best hopes of ousting Luis Enrique’s side remain in a one-off match (i.e. the final) – but with a slightly less gung-ho approach, there is no reason they can’t triumph. And if they make the Champions League final, we can only assume they will have hit the necessary heights to wrap up a domestic double…