Harsh reality dawns on Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola
Berlin, May 7 (IANS): Is this the end of the dream for coach Pep Guardiola and the 2015 German champions Bayern Munich to win this season's Champions League? What does the bruising 0-3 defeat in the first leg of the 2014-15 semi-final against Spanish giants FC Barcelona mean for the future of the 44-year-old Spaniard?
It's almost game over after the first duel, the thought of which Bayern feared the most. The chances of turning the tie around are virtually zero as Bayern seem to be without answers when going forward, especially without star wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, reports Xinhua.
For Guardiola it was a special defeat, one that hurts even more than the one he had to go through in last season's semi-final against Real Madrid (0-5 on aggregate). In the game against Real, Guardiola was at fault for choosing the wrong tactics.
This time, Guardiola had to accept his team was not good enough to beat the best. Guardiola and Bayern now must decide how much they are willing to try for the coveted title a third time next season after twice failing to win what he describes as his only possible target when hired in 2013?
It's back to square one again for him after getting beaten by the very Barcelona side he helped build as coach until 2012.
If Guardiola and Bayern decide to try a third time, two things would be vital: the 44-year-old has to extend his contract that runs until 2016. And Bayern will have to invest millions to renew their team and change their squad, with midfielder Mario Goetze a candidate for a transfer.
Barcelona seemed not only too strong for Bayern at the Camp Nou Stadium on Wednesday but also their potential rivals in the final Real Madrid (trailing 1-2 after the first leg against Italian champions Juventus). Guardiola would have to assess if it is possible to update his Bayern squad to have a realistic chance in the future.
“A football wonder is now needed”, an upset Bayern striker Thomas Mueller said on Wednesday after the match. He was substituted on 79 minutes after failing to satisfy his coach through his performance.
German football legend Franz Beckenbauer was not happy either and criticised Guardiola: “I did not understand the substitution of Mueller, he was one of the best.”
After struggling initially, Bayern seemed settled in the contest though they were mostly on the receiving end of action.
But they lost control in the last 15 minutes after a long rearguard battle. Guardiola's tactic of fighting fire with fire was initially found wanting.
He employed left back Bernat practically as a left-sided midfielder and a three-man defence (Jerome Boateng, Medhi Benatia and Rafinha) to counter Barcelona's dangerous attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Barcelona started furiously and created several chances in the first 15 minutes before Guardiola changed back to a four-man backline seeing his team's inability to stop its opponents' passes in midfield.
Experienced midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso emerged second best in one-on-one situations.
Bayern's shining figure against a breathtaking Barcelona was German national goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. But he too was outshone by a sublime brace from Messi.
The “2015 goalkeeper of the year” was often the last man standing against Barcelona's impressive strike force who have scored 111 of the team's 162 goals this season.
The chance to go 1-0 up through Robert Lewandowski in the 18th minute made it obvious how important it was for Bayern to have the Polish striker on the pitch despite playing with a broken jaw.
Lewandowski played with a specially designed protective carbon-fibre mask. He managed to shield the ball on many occasions to give his team-mates time to move forward and leave their defensive duties.
Bayern, without Robben and Ribery, had far fewer options in one-on-one situations while attacking. Lewandowski and Muller were isolated upfront which prompt doubts about Bayern's ability to have more offensive options in the second leg when they would need four goals.
Guardiola's problems compound with Ribery's ankle injury that would take at least another two weeks to heal, ruling the 32-year-old out of the second leg against Barcelona next Tuesday.