Some of Pep Guardiola’s worst nightmares are of teams resembling the Manchester United of eight nights ago.
“They will wait for our mistakes,” Guardiola said, “and they will wait for free-kicks and corners.”
Patience is generally a virtue that the Bayern Munich coach likes to cultivate in his own sides – but not the kind of furtive, sniper’s patience he attributes to his opponents in Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg.
Guardiola’s style prizes possession, even if his teams – Barcelona from 2008 to 2012 and Bayern this season – occasionally attract criticism for being too patient in converting an overwhelming share of time on the ball into a concrete advantage on the scoreboard.
So successful has he been in his short, glittering managerial career, you can almost list his significant setbacks on the fingers of one hand. Mostly, they have been inflicted by rivals operating with a crabby defence and a crafty counter-attacking system.
Real Madrid, with steel-riveted, reinforced midfields were, from time to time under Jose Mourinho’s watch, able to frustrate Guardiola’s Barcelona and catch them on the break or via set pieces.
Dortmund deprived Bayern of the German Super Cup last August with ambush tactics. The Chelsea of two years ago knocked out Guardiola’s Barca from the Champions League at the semi-final stage with 10 men on the field for the last half hour of the tie at Camp Nou, and with what sometimes appeared to be about 25 men camped behind the ball, seldom more than 20 metres from their own goal.
Three days after that, Guardiola announced his departure from Barcelona, the club of his boyhood, of his peaks as a player and where he won the highest concentration of trophies of any Barcelona coach in history.
The Guardiola principles of possession, passing and probing are as apparent in his Bayern as they were in his Barca, albeit the German champions are a more muscular squad than the Barcelona he built around Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Besides Bayern’s record-breaking run to the Bundesliga title, which they wrapped up last month, he has set local landmarks for the percentage of minutes they keep the ball from opponents and for accuracy of distribution.
An unusual statistic has occurred, though, in the second week of April – Bayern have not won any of their past three games.
Two of those fixtures counted for nothing substantial. Having secured their domestic crown in the 27th round of the 34-game season, they drew and conceded three goals against Hoffenheim in the 28th round, on March 29, and lost at Augsburg last Saturday, their first defeat of the Bundesliga campaign.
In both cases the line-ups fielded by Guardiola reflected the lesser significance of the result, but in both cases that was because the next challenge was to be Manchester United. The 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the first leg was not an outcome Guardiola had been ready to give up.
“It was one our toughest games of the season,” defender Jerome Boateng said. He was critical of the slackness that allowed Nemanja Vidic to score with a header from a set-piece and described how Guardiola had briefed the players to expect an elevated performance from a United who have let their usual high standards slip in the Premier League.
“Our coach said in our meeting how they are very strong at Old Trafford, they defend very well and they’re very dangerous, strong and quick. We had 70-30 possession but didn’t create so many good chances, and then didn’t defend well from the corner for their goal. But I’m confident we can go through.”
Guardiola has again briefed his players to beware United on the counter, to expect frustrating periods when, as at Old Trafford, David Moyes’s team defend deep and in numbers, and look to release the speed of Danny Welbeck on the counter-attack.
“We have to play intelligently and to dominate, although we will not be in control for the 90 minutes,” Guardiola said. “We need to get a better grip on the game than we did in Manchester.”
Some of his trusted lieutenants are missing: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez suspended, and two deft players of the killer pass, in Thiago and Xherdan Shaqiri, injured.
His own dogmas about the best methods for taking Bayern, the European champions, back to the winner’s podium will not have been dented by the capacity of a United playing reactive, counter-attacking football to defy Bayern, but if Moyes has pulled off an unlikely victory after 180, or 210 minutes of the tie, Guardiola may have a sleepless night afterwards.
Manchester United’s Rooney and Evra available to face Bayern
Wayne Rooney may need an injection on his bruised toe as he looks to return for Manchester United against Bayern Munich in Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg after missing Saturday’s 4-0 win at Newcastle United.
Rooney completed full training yesterday but fellow striker Robin van Persie is sidelined with a knee injury. Left-back Patrice Evra is available after missing last week’s first leg through suspension.
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