It was heartbreak for Bayern Munich in the Champions League this week as they were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid.
It meant in Pep Guardiola’s time in Munich, he has failed to complete his main objective at the club – to win the Champions League. To make matters worse, he took over a Champions League-winning team in 2013. For some people, it meant his time at Bayern Munich must be considered a complete failure.
It was strange for Guardiola to be called a fraud by some after the German sides performance on Tuesday. They played fantastically progressive football in one of the most thrilling team performances seen at this stage of the competition.
It was everything Guardiola is about – fast, penetrating possession football. Lahm, Alonso, Boateng and Vidal all put in some of their best performances of the season.
Unfortunately for Pep, it was a night to forget for Thomas Muller in front of goal, who missed a penalty and was generally anonymous. Nevertheless, they still beat Atletico in the match, scoring two goals even with the missed penalty. They ripped Atletico to shreds at times.
This is a team that has conceded a paltry 16 goals in La Liga this season. They kept 12 clean sheets in their last 16 games. They are one of the best organized defences to ever play in the Champions League.
The fact that a very good Atletico team beat them by the narrowest of margins to an outdated away goals rule does not make them big failures, in the same way that defending champs Barcelona are no mugs because this Atletico side beat them either. Indeed, Diego Simeone appreciated the challenge that Bayern presented, calling them one of the toughest teams that he had ever faced.
There are two big reasons why people criticise Guardiola’s achievements in Germany. They are:
- Anyone can win the league with Bayern, there is no competition
Bayern Munich actually only won 3 German leagues in the previous 7 years before Guardiola arrived. Heynckes’ final season was exemplary but they failed to win any trophies in 2011-12. Borussia Dortmund, at the height of Klopp-fever, won the double that season and beat Bayern 5-2 in the DFB Pokal final.
Guardiola meanwhile is set to finish 3-for-3. This season, Dortmund are one of the highest performing second-placed teams in German history. They would have won the league most years but Bayern have reached such a consistency that they have been uncatchable. Yet for some reason, Guardiola’s excellent in the league is used as a stick to beat him.
- Guardiola took a team that won the Champions League and turned them into one that couldn’t
There are so many other factors that go into this than just Guardiola. The 2013 team was incredibly motivated after the loss of 2012 final to Chelsea, something that cannot be replicated. You also need luck along the way, especially with injuries. What Bayern could have done for Arjen Robben against Atletico and they have had a number of injuries in previous seasons also.
The Champions League is also an incredibly hard competition. For example, Sir Alex Ferguson only won it twice, and once from 1993 to 2007. He won nine league titles in that time, winning leagues as dominantly and more consistently than Bayern have. Arsene Wenger has never won the Champions League. Jose Mourinho seemingly a CL specialist in his early career has failed in his last five attempts to reach a final.
Failing to win the Champions League will still be a big disappointment for Guardiola. It means that it won’t have matched what he did at Barcelona but what ever will? What we do know is that Guardiola has produced a quality of football over the past three years at a more consistent level than any other time in Bayern’s history, or at least since the 1970s.
Last year they came up against one of the best players ever in top form. The only season that you can truly say he messed up was against Real Madrid in 2014 but again he faced the best player in the world on form.
Guardiola will face his toughest job ahead to date with Manchester City. But City could not have got a better manager suited to the challenge.