Keep Calm and Trust Pep: Bayern Munich Are Still the Team to Beat in Europe
On the surface, the coming together of Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich is a match made in heaven; a kind of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-style power couple for the football world.
The young, intelligent and innovative manager will guide the German champions in 2013-14 after winning 14 major trophies in his four seasons in charge of Barcelona.
Bayern, even though they already rule the European roost after taking out the Champions League title in great style in May, appear to be a team on the rise.
With Guardiola at the helm, many pundits have predicted that the side from Munich will remain at the top of the footballing tree for years to come:
As the former Spanish international begins to implement his plans in Munich, however, concerns have been raised in the German press that he is tinkering unnecessarily with a winning formula, as Raphael Honigstein explained in the Guardian.
Terrific night at Wembley last night. Two fine sides and a great atmosphere. Guardiola on his way + new era of domination beckons for Bayern— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) May 26, 2013
Five weeks into his new job in Bavaria, the public perception of him has shifted.
The early fawning of club officials, players and the media over the Bundesliga's most high-profile recruit has noticeably given way to more scepticism...
...Guardiola's obsessive attention to detail in training – "I've never had a manager who changed so many things," said striker Claudio Pizarro, 34 – and experimental lineups that have verged on the capricious, with right-back Philipp Lahm being drafted into central midfield and target man Mario Mandzukic toiling fruitlessly on either wing, have only succeeded in upsetting the ultra-smooth running of last year's win machine.
Such concerns are likely to be ill-founded, however.
Guardiola, despite exuding a self-belief that sometimes borders on arrogance, is savvy enough to know that he will not get away with large-scale upheaval at a storied institute such as Bayern.
He may change the way the team functions, but he will do it gradually.
The fact that Guardiola dedicated a substantial number of hours during his one-year hiatus from football to learning the German tongue is a strong indication that, although he will be ringing in some changes in Munich, he also realizes he is the newcomer, and will be required to adapt in some ways as well.
Bayern Munich under former coach Jupp Heynckes played a very different game to Pep's Barcelona, it is true, but at the same time, there are so many shared elements between the teams that a steady transition under Guardiola should prove relatively painless.
Bayern, like Barcelona, is an extremely well-structured club with a strong youth system.
The first team squad that romped to Champions League success last season is bristling with talented players who thrive on possession-based football.
How will Pep fare at Bayern?
That squad has been further strengthened in the offseason with the arrivals of Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona and Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund.
Though, as Honigstein pointed out, there are fears that Thiago's presence will cause feathers to be ruffled, the 22-year-old could actually prove crucial in helping the rest of Bayern's players to interpret Guardiola's vision on the pitch.
Throwing him into the first team at the expense of one of the club's established stars would be a mistake, but using him at the right moments in the right games could be key for Guardiola, in his first season in charge especially.
It should also be noted that, despite the doom and gloom in some quarters, Pep's Bayern have won 12 out of their 13 preseason friendlies.
There will no doubt be teething problems associated with the implementation of Guardiola's system at Bayern, and that could even mean that results this season are less impressive than last.
Bayern fans can rest assured, though, that their club has attained the services of one of the elite managers in world football who, in all probability, will ensure their current greatness is sustained for a number of years to come.
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