A Summer Blueprint for Bayern Munich Success Under Pep Guardiola Next Season
Well, that wasn't too hard was it? Here we lie in deepest May with the World Cup in just a few weeks, and as we all expected last summer, Pep Guardiola is a Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal champion in his first season in Germany.
So what's the problem?
Well, despite walking to his first title since leaving Barcelona in 2012, Guardiola has changed Bayern Munich from the likable club that was headed by Jupp Heynckes a year before. Players have revolted, tactics have changed and, above all else, the Bavarian giants failed to retain their Champions League title.
The Catalan manager may have ticked all the right boxes with a domestic double, a well-trained side and the acquisition of young Thiago Alcantara, but he hasn't won over our hearts just yet. A passable season, undoubtedly, but not the kind of A+ performance that we expect from both club and manager.
Here is how one of the sport's smoothest managers can reclaim his fans.
Guardiola Must Make Up His Mind in Defence
One of the most criticised aspects of Guardiola's time at Bayern Munich is his inability to accommodate the club's most expensive signing ever, Javi Martinez.
Where we saw the towering Spaniard form a cast-iron bond with Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield as they claimed the European Cup last season, Martinez now looks like a shadow of his former self as he continues the transformation into a ball-playing centre-back.
Such indecision came to a head last week when Guardiola opted for a back three of Martinez, Dante and Jerome Boateng against Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final, suggesting that his long-term goal was a shift from the conventional back-four defensive line.
When we pair this with the constant shuffling of Philipp Lahm from defence to midfield and the reintroduction of former flop Rafinha, we have a Bayern defence that doesn't seem to know whether it's coming or going. Guardiola has done nothing but raise questions over his back line over the course of the season and now must come up with some answers before the new campaign begins.
Learn to Accommodate Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara
Now that Toni Kroos looks like he'll be sticking around, as reported by The Press Association and later published by the Guardian, Guardiola will have the entirety of this summer to figure out a system that can get the best out of the young German international as well as Thiago Alcantara.
The coach has tried a number of different strategies, such as playing one in the defensive hole of his 4-1-4-1 while the other sits in front, yet it's as clear that both players prefer to push up the park and create chances behind the striker.
Last season under Heynckes, Kroos often played further up the park as an attacking midfielder and truly thrived, yet this season he has been confined to a central midfield role that has seen his frustration grow by the matchday, while his development has hit something of a stumbling block.
As such, one of Guardiola's biggest priorities for next season must be a plan to ensure both players play in their natural position and to their utmost potential. The risk of losing one or both to a club offering more game time cannot continue to be a real possibility for Bayern.
Cut out the Dead Wood
Toni Kroos may have cooled his jets over a multi-million-euro summer move, yet there are a number of other players in the Bayern squad who look far from happy with their current situation.
The most notable of these is of course Mario Mandzukic, who has done little to hide his discomfort over the impending arrival of Robert Lewandowski to take his place in the first-team. The Croatian star was left out of the cup final squad, with Guardiola saying little more than to suggest he wasn't injured and could have played.
As such, the striker has been linked with a summer move to the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United, as suggested by the Daily Mail last week. Yet the Croatian international isn't the only player who could be fishing for a move.
With Javi Martinez's troubled season clear for all to see, the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool are reportedly interested in snapping up his signature if the player decides to draw a line under his time in Germany. The 22-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri has also been linked with a move away after failing to cement a first-team spot for the second season in a row. Both stories were reported by the Daily Mirror on Sunday.
Although it's unlikely that all three will leave, Guardiola may be forced into allowing those who continue to voice discomfort to move away from the club. Squad harmony is something that the Catalan manager has always strived for, and at the moment, such players seem from happy.
Find a Proper Role for Mario Goetze
According to Whoscored, Mario Goetze played in seven different positions for Bayern Munich this season. From right-sided midfielder to central playmaker to left-wing forward all the way to striker, Goetze's first campaign with Bayern has seen him become something of an attacking handyman.
Yet few would argue that Bayern made the young attacking midfielder the second-most expensive German player of all time last May just to have him as a back-up.
Perhaps the resurgence of Arjen Robben this season was never expected and that pushed the young forward down the pecking order. Following a grueling World Cup, we may see the former Dortmund midfielder take Robben's or Franck Ribery's spot more often, but as things stand, Bayern and Guardiola simply haven't done enough to utilise their new wunderkind.
If Bayern want to do more than simply win the Bundesliga title again, they'll need their coach to do a little better next time around.
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