Changes for Bayern Under Guardiola

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Pep Guardiola has made a few changes to last year’s European champions, and the reception has not been entirely positive.
When it was announced that Pep Guardiola, one of the world’s most high-profile and successful managers, would be in charge of Bayern Munich for the 2013/14 season, there was an unsurprisingly high level of interest. When Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to an unprecedented treble, the speculation began as to how, if at all, Pep Guardiola would change such a successful side.

Tactical Change

The first obvious change that Guardiola has made is to change the formation:
While the system has many of the same features as before (a lone striker, inverted wingers, a back four) there has been a fundamental change in the central midfield area. The one personnel change in the formations above is Toni Kroos in for Javi Martinez. Kroos is a far more attack-minded player than his Spanish counterpart, so Guardiola’s system looks more of a 4-1-4-1 than a 4-2-3-1 as a result.

This change has been met with scepticism amongst the Bayern faithful for a number of reasons. Firstly, Martinez had an excellent first season at the Allianz Arena after his big money move from Athletic Bilbao, and was a cornerstone of the defensive shape that made Bayern so tough to play against. In addition to this concern, is the worry about the effect on Bastian Schweinsteiger. With Martinez alongside him last season, Schweinsteiger was able to move higher up the pitch to use his vision and passing range in an attacking sense. As the sole holding midfielder in the new formation, the defensive responsibility has been loaded on his shoulders. He is effectively trying to fill the Sergio Busquets role with a very different skill set.

This defensive vulnerability was exposed by Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup match. For Fernando Torres’ counter-attacking opening goal, Eden Hazard was able to run through some weak challenges in central areas before feeding Andre Sch├╝rrle out wide. Torres’ finish was superb, but question as to whether the chance would have arisen with 2 holding midfielders is certainly a valid one.

While the two formations shown above make use of players who are present in both this season’s squad and last season’s, there are a couple of personnel changes worth noting.

Thiago Alcantara

The 22-year old Spanish midfielder was brought in from Guardiola’s former club Barcelona, and while he is one of the world’s brightest young midfielders, there is some element of wariness amongst the Bayern fans. While Thiago is currently injured, there were some signs during pre-season and in the German Super Cup defeat against Dortmund, that Guardiola is looking for Thiago to be the holding midfielder, taking Schweinsteiger’s place.

If this is the intention, Bayern fans might be forgiven for wondering why any of their treble-winning side should be replaced, particularly by a player who was far from a regular in the side Bayern destroyed at the semi-final stage of the Champions League last season. With Thiago having played under Guardiola before, there is some suggestion that Thiago is being viewed the way that the teacher’s pet is viewed at school. It could well be a mistake for Guardiola to give a regular first-team place to such a player, particularly ahead of local hero Schweinsteiger.

Mario G├Âtze

In a transfer that rocked German football, Borussia Dortmund’s young star and poster boy Mario G├Âtze moved to Bavaria, leading to speculation as to whether German football would develop into a Bayern monopoly.

Now the deal is done though, attention turns to how G├Âtze will fit in at Bayern. There is a strong suspicion that Pep’s strikerless system from his Barcelona days may make an appearance, with G├Âtze as his Messi. While this was a system looked at in pre-season, the early form of Mario Mandzukic looks to have killed any sign of that for the time being at least. G├Âtze will probably have to make do with fighting for one of the 2 more attacking midfield positions.

Conclusion

With 10 points from a possible 12, Bayern’s season has started well, even if many might have expected a 100% record. Defeat against Dortmund in the German Super Cup, as well as scraping past Chelsea on penalties in its European equivalent, has shown early signs that this Bayern side is weaker than last season’s team.

It remains to be seen whether these are early teething problems or something a little more serious. While Bayern fans are happy to be patient for the time being, they are a club who expect to dominate domestically. Anything short of a Bundesliga title would be seen as a failed season, particularly after the hugely impressive 2012/13 campaign.