Guardiola highlights Bayern weaknesses in European quest

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Guardiola needs senior players Xavi Alonso and Thomas Muller to bring maturity to the team.

Up in Germany’s most northern Bundesliga stadium, the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, Pep Guardiola’s farewell tour began on a freezing cold January night.

Hosts Hamburger SV, traditional strugglers, were a welcome first stop for the Premier League-bound coach as Bayern Munich picked up all three points, and, for one night at least, increased their lead at the top of the Bundesliga to eleven points. They remain safely on course to a record fourth consecutive German championship, but failed to impress in their first competitive match in over a month.

During that month, Bayern Munich had to declare being the most beautiful bride in Germany is not enough to maintain the services of Pep Guardiola, a manager who believes in short-term projects rather than a long-term employment at one single club.

For a couple of weeks, following Bayern’s brief press statement only days before Christmas, all of Germany wondered why Guardiola opted against staying at the Bavarian powerhouse. Munich were prepared to offer him everything he wanted, he needed, but the Catalan, seeking a new challenge in a different league, in a different country, was not up for it.

At worst, Bundesliga and Bayern feared that indeed the lack of domestic competiveness made Guardiola seek a new adventure outside of Bundesliga. That, Guardiola said, played no role in his decision making.

In his previous two seasons, Bayern strolled to early Bundesliga titles, then struggled in Champions League against La Liga sides Real Madrid and Barcelona.

In 2016, Pep Guardiola has one more shot at bringing the Champions League trophy to Bavaria, just like Ottmar Hitzfeld had done in 2001 and Jupp Heynckes in the famous Treble winning season in 2013.

Yet, during the winter break in Germany, the tone at the Allianz Arena somewhat changed. The main goal, everyone from CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge down to the groundkeeper said, is to win the Bundesliga title.

Winning the Champions League, they said, is also down to factors a club can’t influence completely, and in any case, Pep Guardiola noted, to a more mature, and composed performance on the pitch.

Guardiola at Bayern facts

  • Took charge in June 2013.
  • 76% win rate.
  • Has won five titles including the Bundesliga (twice) & Club World Cup.

The Catalan, in public, prefers entertainment and a football near perfection to trophies.

“We are not ready to win the Champions League yet. We need to make a step forward,” Guardiola said earlier this month during one of his press conferences. “For instance, we have a problem when we concede a goal. We lose our concentration and the control. Then, we are not stable enough.”

On Friday night, Bayern Munich, for less than ten minutes only, lost their composure after conceding a 52nd minute equalizer through an own goal by veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Bayern Munich, taking to the field in a 3-4-3 formation, controlled the match at Hamburg throughout the first half. Of course, sometimes they were caught out of position, when the hosts stormed down their right side, but, overall, the Bavarians were in control of the match against a passionate, hard-working but harmless opponent.

Hamburg pressured Bayern’s midfield high up the field, and kept them away from their own penalty box. Munich waited and trusted their patience. Xabi Alonso fell behind the back three of David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, and distributed the ball. Thiago Alcantara was at ease with himself, making quick turns, passing the ball into gaps for pacey winger Kingsley Coman to collect. But that was that.

Attacker Robert Lewandowski, effectively without work in his role as the number nine, moved back into midfield to win balls, headers, only to get a feeling of the ball and be included in Bayern’s aimless play. It paid off.

Bayern under Guardiola have all confidence and patience it takes to wait for that one moment. That’s what they did on Friday.

In the 37th minute, Lahm, who had by then returned to a more traditional role as right-back, played a long ball to Thomas Müller, and Hamburg keeper Rene Adler was too slow to get to the ball before the Germany international, he only reached his feet and grounded him inside the box, with the goal bouncing past the wrong side of the goal post. Penalty. An easy job for Lewandowski.

Bayern hit the ground running in the second half until Xabi Alonso lost a ball in Hamburg’s half. The hosts worked their way up the field and midfielder Ivo Ilicevic was stopped by a Thiago foul some 30 metres in front of the goal.

The free-kick sailed into the box, Manuel Neuer watched from the goal-line as it flew past friends and enemies, only for Alonso to give it the final touch at the far post. 53 minutes. 1-1.

Bayern, indeed, now lost their cool for a few minutes.

The Volksparkstadion was awake, and Hamburg charged down their right attacking side, when Jerome Boateng fell to the ground and did not get up again. One of the best centre-backs in the world limped off the pitch with a groin injury. It is unclear when he’ll return.

Hamburg’s attacks lasted for eight minutes until Robert Lewandowski deflected a Thomas Müller shot, and Bayern regained the lead, which they held until the final whistle.

“We are not in a perfect condition,” Pep Guardiola, sitting on the podium at the Volksparkstadion for the last time, said, and passed on his compliments to the team. “The first match is never easy.”

However, Jerome Boateng’s injury casted a cloud over the three points. At the back, Bayern already are without Medhi Benatia, and Holger Badstuber has only just returned from a long injury. The loss of Boateng would be a major blow for the Bavarians, not in Bundelsiga, but in Champions League where they’ll meet Juventus in late February.

“If we lose Jerome for a longer spell, we’ll play with other players,” Guardiola shrugged his shoulders, and referred to the club doctor to discuss the injury. “We’ve got a problem, but we’ll find a solution. Those who are fit have to reach a perfect condition as soon as possible.”

They have one month.

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