By Brian Homewood
PEP Guardiola needs to find a cutting edge to Bayern Munich’s endless spells of possession if the holders are to overturn their one-goal deficit against Real Madrid in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg.
Although they are still on course for a second successive treble, Bayern’s tactics are becoming increasingly unpopular among German critics who turned on Guardiola after last week’s 1-0 loss.
“Possession doesn’t mean anything when your opponents create the better chances. We are lucky they only scored one,” said honorary president Franz Beckenbauer in his latest outburst against what is seen as a German version of tiki-taka.
At times, Guardiola seems to have been using Bayern as a laboratory for his latest tactical experiments.
He has repeatedly moved players around and changed the formation, re-inventing fullback Philipp Lahm as a holding midfielder and even playing attacking midfielder Toni Kroos in front of the defence in the quarter-final against Manchester United.
In Bayern’s last 12 Bundesliga matches Guardiola has made an average of five changes to the starting line-up per game. Yet, for all the tinkering, critics say his team have become too predictable.
In last week’s first leg, Bayern had 64 percent of the possession yet depended largely on moments of inspiration from winger Arjen Robben to create chances.
Toothless and monotonous were among the adjectives bandied around the German media following the first leg, even though Bayern created more chances than the hosts.
Saturday’s 5-2 win over Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga may have given Bayern a lift, although Guardiola is aware that there is a huge gap in standard between a mid-table league side and nine-time European champions Real.
“The win is obviously good for our mood as we prepare to face Real Madrid,” said Guardiola, whose side have already won the Bundesliga and reached the German Cup final. “I have total faith in my team and I hope we can pull together and do it.”
“What counts to us is Tuesday,” added forward Thomas Mueller. “Up to then we need total support from everyone, from everyone connected with the club, and also from the media and the press.”
Bayern’s big worry is that they did not score an away goal and that keeping a clean sheet against Real is a Herculean task.
Real are tournament top scorers with 33 goals in their 11 games so far and Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 of them, equalling Lionel Messi’s single-season record set in 2011-12.
Ronaldo fired an ominous warning with a spectacular brace in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Osasuna, while Gareth Bale, who missed that game with flu, and striker Karim Benzema are also expected to be back.
“I have great confidence in the players and I think everyone else should as well,” said Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “If Bale, Benzema and Cristiano are well, they will play and our first intention is to score, rather than defend.”