It was not the best of nights for Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola when he returned to his former club Barcelona for a Champions League Semi-Final first leg tie on Wednesday. For 75 minutes his team succeeded in stifling the attacking threats of the opposition forwards without causing any real problems for the home defence. However, three late goals by the Catalan team transformed the tie with Guardiola left to reflect that another sublime performance is required in Munich next week to overturn the deficit and advance to the final.
Guardiola enjoyed much success during his tenure as Barcelona manager in winning La Liga on three successive occasions from 2009 and also clinching the Champions League in 2009 and 2011. The tika-taka style of football introduced at the club earned many admirers with Xavi and Andres Iniesta controlling the midfield area on many occasions when adopting the tactic.
After become the most successful coach in Barcelona history, Guardiola decided to take a year’s sabbatical from football before replacing the successful Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich with a mandate to continue his predecessor’s success story at the Bavarian club. With Bayern winning the Champions League in 2013, Guardiola was expected to retain the trophy for the club in his first season at the club.
A 5-0 aggregate defeat by Real Madrid at the semi-final stage last season ended those plans with a 4-0 home loss to the eventual champions proving to be a bruising defeat. However, having clinched the Bundesliga for this campaign prior to facing his former club in the 2014-15 semi-final, Guardiola rested Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski from the 2-0 weekend defeat at Bayer Leverkusen. Lewandowski had been suffering from a facial injury but was available for the game in Barcelona, yet it was the absence of two other key Bayern players which was to prove more significant.
Both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery have missed several recent games due to injury and their availability for the return leg must be viewed with some doubt as their levels of fitness will be suspect. Their creativity and willingness to run at opposition players was missed by Bayern on Wednesday evening as they controlled much of the midfield area without seriously testing the Barcelona defence.
Guardiola would have settled for a 0-0 scoreline in the Nou Camp but defensive lapses, which almost cost his team dearly in the previous round, resurfaced in the final fifteen minutes. An abortive attempt to play the ball out of defence allowed Lionel Messi to fire home the first goal and then some further slack defending, particularly by Jerome Boateng, enabled the Argentinian to lob goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for the second goal. A Neymar strike in added time increased the problems for Guardiola.
Bayern Munich lost 3-1 at Porto in their quarter-final first leg before claiming a 6-1 win in Bavaria, but overturning a 3-0 scoreline against Barcelona is an entirely different proposition with Robben and Ribery unlikely to be fully fit, if selected.
It is not an impossible task for Guardiola and Bayern Munich but it may be the case that the ex-Barcelona manager may need to wait another season before replicating his achievements in Spain at his current post in Germany.