The curious case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

The playing form of the venerable Football Club Barcelona with the current crop of players follows the curious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day the club plays the trademark ‘Barcelona’ football at an extremely fast pace, fighting for the ball, giving the opponent players very little time on the ball, forcing them to make mistakes and losing the ball. When the club plays this form of their natural game, they look like a team from some other planet, blitzing expensively assembled teams aside as if they were a bunch of flies. Other days the club plays a lethargic form of the game hoping for the sheer class of the players to carry through. Many times they win and some times they lose.

‘Pep’ Guardiola was able to motivate the team and able to make them play their trademark game day in and day out. Under all the other coaches, ever since Guardiola left, the team has been flitting in and out of games as if it has been sleep-walking. Take the case of Manchester City in the 2014 Champions League tie. The blitzy Barcelona motored into town and Manchester was flattened in no time. They never had the time to recover. Same again against Atletico Madrid in the La Liga a week ago. By the time Atletico realized they were playing a different team and could readjust, it was already half time and game over.

The big question is, can Luis Enrique, the current Barcelona coach do a ‘Simeone’ and motivate the team to play their ‘A’ game day in and day out? The recent snubbing of the Ballon D’Or seems to have given Messi another void to fill. Suarez and Neymar will be raring to prove that they are not necessarily second class citizens. Some midfield changes are essential to keep legs fresh and raring to go. Otherwise, everything is right for Luis to create a historic first season for himself. That will be something to watch.

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Bayern pays the price for Guardiola’s poor tactical choices

Make no mistake, this Bayern team is capable of beating any team in the world. But Real Madrid are not any team in the world and you can’t beat them sleepwalking and hamstrung. You need to be well prepared and take your chances. Poor tactical choices made by coach Guardiola meant Bayern never had a fighting chance.

Bayern neither have the speed nor the organization among their back-four to maintain such a high line of defense deployed against counter-attacking monsters Bale-Benzema-Cristiano. But that is, in a way, beside the point. Even before BBC could thread a few strings of their marauding runs at lightning speed, Bayern were done and dusted. Buried by two powerful headers, from set-pieces, by Sergio Ramos. Ramos has this ability to take any high-octane tie on its throat by imposing himself. Mostly by making some rash fouls but sometimes carrying his team across the line all by himself – by scoring his rare goals from set-pieces. Tonight, he scored twice from set pieces – rarest among the rare. Set-pieces have always been a glaring, gaping hole in Guardiola’s teams.

This Bayern team needs a completely new set of centerbacks and a rethink of strategy when they play big teams. When a team boasts Robben, Ribery, Mandzukic, Muller, Kroos, Schweinsteigern and Lahm on the pitch and cannot score a single goal over 180 minutes, and get thrashed 5-0, something should be fundamentally wrong. Also, the decision not to start Mario Gotze, who is more creative and had the best chance to score in the first leg in the few minutes he played, was a risk that ultimately didn’t pay. Guardiola has a lot to answer.

Pep Guardiola is making this Bayern team the laughing stock of world football. Bayern heirarchy should be thinking what is wrong with this team?

Guardiola bared?

Everyone would agree that Real Madrid gave Bayern Munich a masterclass in counterattacking football. Benzema’s goal was sublime in its buildup and finish giving the Bayern defense no chance. The pass to Benzema is arguably the most important two touches Coentrao has ever made for Real Madrid. Coentrao’s anticipation of the gap and Cristiano’s acceptance that Coentrao had the better chance, not to forget the accuracy of the pinpoint pass, are stuff legends are made of.

One of the biggest dilemma’s for Guardiola seems to be around the deployment of Lahm. Lahm is a supremely gifted footballer who can play as a right-back as well as mid-fielder. Lahm is equally effective in both roles. Against Real Madrid, Lahm played midfielder most of the game and was successful in shrugging off markers, creating space and moving the ball forward every single time he got it. He has developed this ‘Silva-ish’ ability to quickly turn direction and move forward, which he demonstrated time and again yesterday. The problem is: when Lahm is moved to the midfield one hell of a hole is agape in the right back, which Real Madrid exploited masterfully.

Bayern Munich is now living in a kind of a tactical purgatory, struggling to choose between possession-based ‘heavenly’ football or more direct ‘hellish’ Bayern-style football. The stylized heavenly football that Guardiola is so keen to develop can live without a strong and alert defense but needs a magician in the center. The devilish ‘Bayern’ style played by Heyneckes last season was more direct and suits the current players but out of favor with the current coach. The players seem to be always in two minds, caught between the two.

The current Bayern team is a supremely versatile team. It switches between the two styles with little fuss and effortlessly manages to make the transition. One is effective against smaller teams and the other is effective against stronger teams. Against Real Madrid, Bayern seemed to be in a dilemma about which team to turn up with and got promptly punished.

The current Bayern team, arguably, has the best midfield in world football. What it lacks is a defense worthy of this team. The defense is too slow and not well organized. Guardiola would do well to get back to Bayern-style football that suits his current team and park tiki-taka for the next season. The draw is still not lost and despite the single goal advantage Real Madrid has a large mountain to climb.