“Super-Bayern uberrollen Manchester” rejoiced the headline in the German newspaper Bild on Thursday morning, celebrating how Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, on his 100th day in charge of the club, rolled-over Manchester City in a manner reminiscent of how the coach’s Barcelona dominated teams in such an unforgiving manner.
While Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben may have been indebted to Joe Hart for the role he played in their goals in the 1-3 victory, the general media consensus, across both countries, was that Munich had totally outclassed Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Guardiola, given his relentless quest for footballing perfection that continues at full pace in his new job, will no doubt be interested to read the inner pages of Der Spiegel. He would find a criticism of his team’s lack of cutting-edge in a first half that saw 70% possession but only a one goal cushion going into the interval.
“Bayern toyed with the British team in a game of cat and mouse, but forgot their bite” read the Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung, desperately finding something to pull Guardiola up on, like a schoolteacher attempting to keep his star student grounded.
It seems absurd that such a commanding performance would have attracted negative marks, but the Spaniard would probably have been delighted to have read the criticisms given his unrelenting search for improvement.
Though Wednesday night wouldn’t have given him much room to manoeuvre. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben menaced on either flank, the irresistible Thomas Muller played his withdrawn striking role to near-perfection and Phillip Lahm, the definitive professional, again vindicated Guardiola’s innovative idea to renovate him as a holding-midfielder with another fine display.
It wasn’t a surprise given how ruthless Bayern were in winning the competition under Jupp Heynckes last season, though Guardiola has inherited that clinical efficiency and added his own layer of Iberian philosophy. The Germans retained the ball with precision, the featherweight grace of Toni Kroos, gliding across the field like it was glazed with ice, linked the midfield to Muller, the “space investigator” as he calls himself, constantly roaming and constantly scheming.
It was space that Muller found himself occupying in the 54th minute, acres of it in fact, as Dante chipped in a delicate pass that found Gael Clichy daydreaming, Joe Hart helpless and Muller fully receptive of the chance that had been presented to him. 0-2 and it was game over. Still they passed and they pressed, Fernandinho was caught in possession by Muller three minutes later and Robben was slipped in, again past the abysmal Clichy, to drive into the open chasm that seems to be Hart’s near-post.
In the co-commentary chair, Gary Neville aimed personal criticism at England’s number one. “You have to say Hart’s got to do better again at that near post” he said, “that’s twice he’s been beaten there tonight. He’ll be disappointed again”. It capped off a forgettable night for Hart who was beaten too easily by Ribery’s low shot in the seventh minute, further intensifying the scrutiny into his worrying lack of form going into England’s vital World Cup qualifiers. “He’s got to do better there” Neville surveyed the first goal, “he’s let it go through his hands”.
Hart was one of the many City players to come out of the schooling devoid of any plaudits with Yaya Toure, so often the behemoth that commands the midfield battle with brute strength, struggling notably in the face of Lahm’s nimble mobility and the fierce consistency of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Clichy was embarrassingly wretched while his nearest centre-back, the inexperienced Matija Nastasic, was constantly terrorised by Robben’s raids in-field.
City’s attacking trio of Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Eden Dzeko were almost non-existent until they were hauled off by a disgruntled Pellegrini with 20 minutes to go. “We played really badly” assessed the Chilean, and nobody could really argue. “We didn’t expect such an easy game like that” offered Robben “we expected more from City”.
That was to take nothing away from Bayern’s excellence however, producing the latest artwork in Guardiola’s steadfast search for his footballing vision to reach a zenith, a team that rotated on its 8 man midfield ahead of two comfortable ball-playing centre-halves and a goalkeeper. “I’m very, very satisfied” said Bayern’s president Uli Hoeness as he departed the Etihad, “it was amazing how we passed the ball around”.
Guardiola however, was less than happy. “We’ve a lot to improve on” said the 42 year old, “our dead-ball situations were terrible”. Few has noticed and even fewer agreed, they were too busy worrying how good Bayern Munich will be when, as Manuel Neuer said “we can get better still”, and Guardiola irons out the faults.
On Wednesday night, those faults were only obvious to him.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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