Seven questions hanging over Guardiola’s Bayern project

April 28, 2013

With Mario Götze joining what appears to be Europe’s strongest squad, Pep Guardiola’s project sparks intrigue before it has even begun. 

Tsutomu Takasu

In pure footballing terms, it is difficult to remember a more anticipated summer than that of Guardiola taking charge of Bayern Munich. The signings, the dead wood, the tactics; what will happen? We feel like kids waiting for Christmas. The Bayern hierarchy has already gifted us an early present: the £31.5million agreement with Dortmund’s 20-year-old Mario Götze. Yet as far as speculation is concerned, the deal raises more questions than answers. And so while Guardiola draws up his Bavarian masterplan, here are seven issues worth discussing.

1. What formation will Guardiola use?

The question deserves an article on its own, but the basics are worth discussing. Considering Guardiola’s emphasis on a numerically superior midfield, we know he will field one striker – if even that. As for the defence, Pep did experiment with three at the back at Barça. However, the presence of David Alaba and Philipp Lahm makes the four-man back-line a no-brainer. Franck Ribéry is too good to bench, so there will be wingers of some sort. And so, realistically, the formation is bound to be a variation of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Which one Guardiola will choose is hard to tell. What is certain is that, like at Barça, he will make tactical tweaks to maximise his players’ potential. Perhaps we might even see the invention of a new role.

2. In what position will Götze play?

Among the many questions surrounding the player selection, Götze is the most intriguing. The general consensus is that Guardiola will adhere to his nickname as the ‘German Messi’ by deploying him in a ‘false nine’ role. If true, that carries a frightening potential. It is all speculation, but the more thought you give it, the more it makes sense: Götze was reportedly Guardiola’s No1 transfer target, and spending £31.5million on someone who is not an absolute focal point in your project makes little sense. In Götze’s current position, behind the striker, Toni Kroos is already an excellent alternative. The wingers – Ribéry and Arjen Robben – are not bad either. The false nine concept looks likely to materialise.

3. Where will Guardiola use Kroos?

The presence of Götze will hit the established starting line-up like a tsunami. Players will be moved; changes made. For a start, if Götze becomes the false nine, using an attacking midfielder like Kroos behind him makes little sense; they would both be drifting into the same space. An alternative would be to deploy an Özil-style playmaker to overload the flanks, and leave the central space for Götze. But Kroos is not that type of player. In another twist, Guardiola could play Kroos deep alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger (who is surely undroppable). But where does that leave Javi Martínez?

4. Could Martínez be used in defence?

Considering the mentioned midfield reshuffle, the fact that Martínez has played there before, and that Guardiola redeployed Javier Mascherano as centre-back at Barça, the Martínez-as-centre-back prospect is not unlikely. The Basque is good on the ball, strong, mobile. And if Bayern can replace him with Kroos in midfield, Guardiola will not shed too many tears over sacrificing 35-year-old Daniel Van Buyten.

5. Why are they chasing Lewandowski?

A more mysterious question is why Bayern are chasing Robert Lewandowski. Much hinges on where Götze will play, but if the false nine role will be installed, the Pole will surely be no more than an impact player. Even if Götze is used elsewhere, Bayern already have three good strikers in Mario Gómez, Mario Mandžukić and Claudio Pizarro. Will these simply be offloaded? Ignoring the cynical angle of weakening Dortmund’s team, it seems an odd move.

6. Will Guardiola keep Robben?

Another major issue is Robben. The Dutchman is hardly the most selfless player, but his maximum level is as good as any winger in Europe, and Guardiola would be foolish to let him go. The challenge will be to balance the creative responsibility between him, Ribéry and Götze, knowing that too many dribblers can create friction and collective inefficiency. Whatever Guardiola opts to do, his decision on Robben will heavily influence the way in which the attacking puzzle is solved.

7. What will be the style of play?

The concept of tiki-taka is not simply followed or abandoned; there is a sliding scale over how rigorously one chooses to implement it. Guardiola took it to the extreme at Barça. Will he do the same at Bayern? The transition would be easy, knowing how the principles of possession were already installed by Louis van Gaal. But it is still difficult to envisage another team but Barça control matches with such dominance. Perhaps that is the theme of the waiting period for Guardiola’s project: we can make educated guesses about what may happen, but as for the actual end product, we can only imagine.

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Photo: Tsutomu Takasu

24 comments

What do you think about Shaqiri? Do you think guardiola will use him?

by Albanos on May 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm. #

For sure. He’s way too good to be left out.

by Thore Haugstad on May 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm. #

Why they chase Lewandowski is actually quite simple: Pep, insane as he is, will put him in goal. And everyone will rise hell with this, of course, but then it’ll turn out Lewandowski had the potential to be the most amazing keeper the game has ever seen, and people will praise Pep as a genius mastermind. Specially after Lewandowski scores a goal (as a keeper) by playing tiki-taka all over the pitch with his fellow teammates. That sounds about right ;)

by Pablo on May 4, 2013 at 11:58 pm. #

Hey all, great discussion here but why do you all assume that Guardiola will play as he did in his last two and a half years in Barcelona. You got to keep in mined that the whole Barca game was designed in a way that will best serve Messi. Pep’s football is not about the false nine, it’s about pressing high, changing places and much more.

About Müller, my guess he will have a great role in Pep’s team, as mentioned above he is very cleaver got to be one of the most intelligent players out there. It is fascinating to follow his movement during matches.

by Jonathan on May 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm. #

Agreed that Guardiola doesn’t have to copy the false nine concept. But in terms of the other principles you talk about – pressing, possession etc – having a false nine helps. It ensures numerical superiority in midfield: Messi, Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta always created 4v2 or 4v3 centrally. That advantage goes away if you play a proper striker. It all depends on how direct Guardiola wants Bayern to be.

by Thore Haugstad on May 3, 2013 at 7:54 am. #

Guardiola has made that mistake before. If you recall, he initially had Ibrahimovic leading the line. Then for some odd reason, even unknown to Ibrah, Pep axes him. First the loan and then the sell. Which eventually led to Messi and the false 9.
If Pep is the reason behind the Lewandowski persuing, then he is simplu making the same mistake twice.

by Miso on June 13, 2013 at 4:16 am. #

Agreed.

by Thore Haugstad on June 13, 2013 at 7:51 am. #

I would be very hesitant to implement Martínez as a CB. With him on the pitch Bayern have not conceded a single goal in this years Bundesliga campaign from open play. That just says it all. He has a tremdendous awarness of the space surronding him and he offers incredible protection to the back four. Combined with his physicality he is the perfect holding midfielder. Besides, in my opinion Jêrome Boateng is the most improved CB this year in Europe and Dante is one of the best as well.
With regards to the Pedro/ Müller comparism: The major difference is that Müller’s style of playing actually suits more to a counter-attacking side. As he is not as brilliant on the ball as others he does need more space to work with. And although he is great at finding space he relies on other players’ movement. Pedro on the other hand is a player who does not depend on ther other’s movement but offers this kind of movement himself to open space for Messi.
As a already stated on #FootballMatters I can not see Götze being as clinical as Messi. Also I understand the Lewandowski transfer to be a done deal, so I expect him to be the new target man.
I think Müller will be the back up for Götze as a wide right player. And I expect both Gómez and Robben to be sold. Just like Müller they fit more to a counter-attacking side.
With regards to the youth academy: Emre Can (a holding midfielder) and Pierre-Emile Hojberg (a number ten) will be great additions to the squad.

by aximis on May 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm. #

Martínez: He has been magnificent. But the way he defends is that he sits deep, covering a specific zone, where nothing gets past him. He works perfectly in the current system. But if Guardiola chooses to press higher, as Barça do, he might benefit from having a midfielder that can play further up the pitch.

by Thore Haugstad on May 3, 2013 at 7:52 am. #

Plenty of options there. I guess all the possibilities just show how complicated this puzzle will be for Guardiola.

The Müller debate is interesting. I very much agree that he has similar qualities to Pedro: clever, unselfish, brilliant movement, good work rate. But Pedro is quicker, and better at combining with the players around him. He’s also capable of attacking the space behind defenders. It all depends on how Pep will play, of course. But certainly in a system like at Barça, Pedro fits better than Müller.

by Thore Haugstad on May 2, 2013 at 9:40 am. #

I would have thought Muller would be right up Guardiola’s street – he’s a bit like Pedro in that his talent is not great technical proficiency (though he is good) or being a playmaker, but rather his manipulation of space and knowing when and where to run to, either to finish off a move or create space for others. I think Muller will be in, Robben out.
Much depends on whether Lewandowski signs or not – if he does, Gotze into no 10 type role, or just to the left (a la Iniesta) with Kroos and Schweinstieger in midfield, Martinez in central defence. If he doesn’t, possibly see Gotze as false 9, Muller behind to dart into the spaces Gotze creates, Ribery cutting in from the left and maybe Kroos shifted out toward the right hand side – Shweini and Martinez still central midfield. Ribery and Kroos will inevitably seek to come inside, leaving Muller space wide to combine with Alaba or Lahm. Alternatively, move Kroos to the left of the midfield 3, rather than as a No 10, with Muller wide right again.

by katsspidey on May 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm. #

Regarding question 3.
Assuming Guardiola will play Götze as a false 9, with Robben and Ribery on the wings, wouldn’t it make sense with a midfield triangle of Martinez, Schweinsteiger and Kroos?
Martinez at the base as a reliable short-passer-cum-destroyer, not unlike busquets. Schweinsteiger as an xavi-esque playmaker. And Kroos as an intelligent, more attack minded playmaker who is good at incisive passes and long-shots.
It gives rise to another question though: What about Müller? He’s not exactly Guardiolas type of player, but isn’t he a bit too good to drop?

Another point is to sell Robben, use Götze on that wing.

by JimsonJazz on April 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm. #

That’s a very intelligent analysis. Can’t really disagree with any of it: the model you mention sounds excellent. Guardiola would know the system inside-out too. Müller? A nice supersub, I’m guessing.

by Thore Haugstad on April 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm. #

Muller is a very intelligent player who will play on the wing in a 4-3-3 system with a false nr 9 IMO. Like Pedro does.

by Don Andres on May 1, 2013 at 7:52 pm. #

No way Muller will be out of the staring 11.
Too good, and too young for it.

by Anonymous on May 1, 2013 at 7:57 pm. #

Last comment by me :-)

by Lior on May 1, 2013 at 7:58 pm. #

He’s extremely clever and has a very good mentality. But not quite sure if he’s technically sound enough for Guardiola’s football.

by Thore Haugstad on May 2, 2013 at 9:34 am. #

Muller’s tactical sense is superb for an attacker though. I think as far as influence and talent in the final 3rd goes, Guardiola may have an easier time respecting Muller there than Ribery or Robben.

by Sage on May 13, 2013 at 12:53 am. #

If Guardiola builts something akin to the Barca system at Bayern with Gotze in the Messi role, Ribery and Robben are not the type of players that would be appropriate for that system. Both are traditional wingers (pacy and good dribblers) who like to play with the ball at their feet.

Could both of them accept a functional role in support of the ‘German Messi’? Anything is possible, but at this stage in their careers it doesn’t seem very likely even though both are intelligent players, with good acceleration and short passing ability.

by Angel on May 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm. #

That’s a good point. It’s very difficult to get the balance right. It’s okay at the moment, seeing as Bayern have more target man-like strikers who rarely dribble. But if Götze will play there, that’s a big challenge for Pep.

by Thore Haugstad on May 2, 2013 at 9:36 am. #

Lewandowski & mandzukic can play a pressing game which was a central part of guardiola’s plan. Gomez is a good player but not mobile enough.

by Bharath on April 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm. #

True.

by Thore Haugstad on April 29, 2013 at 11:26 pm. #

I think we still have to wait to see if any more players are brought in to Munich in order to see if Guardiola will let go of players such as Robben, Ribery, etc. Guardiola did let go of players such as Ronaldinho, E’to, Deco, etc. back at Barca so it could be assumed that he could possibly do the same at Munich. What I also ask myself is how much of a factor will Munich’s youth system come into play? Will Guardiola give the youth system a chance as he did with Busquests, Pedro, Thiago, and so on?

by Loop on April 29, 2013 at 7:54 am. #

Interesting questions. When he let Ronaldinho & Co go, their off-the-pitch behaviour had become very unprofessional, and was influencing the team in a negative way. Don’t think that’s the case with anyone at Bayern. He’ll probably make a few quality additions, without offloading too many. I hope he’ll use the youth system, but I don’t really know how many potential first-team players Bayern have down there…

by Thore Haugstad on April 29, 2013 at 11:30 am. #