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Why Atletico Madrid Is Pep Guardiola's Biggest Test at Bayern Munich

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2016

Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

The good news for Bayern Munich: Playing Atletico Madrid in the 2016 UEFA Champions League final is impossible.

The bad news for Bayern Munich: To get to the Champions League final, they must play Atletico twice.

Arguably the worst possible outcome for Pep Guardiola's side, having to match wits with Diego Simeone and circumvent a style more combative than graceful, it seems everything Munich's manager has built over the past three years will be put to the test.

Can Bayern's free-flowing football, overcome a rugged, tenacious Atletico side? Having the capacity to play beautifully, Juventus and Benfica have troubled the German champions with clever tactical arrangements, using the counter-attack and solid defending to frustrate Guardiola's men.

A capable Diego Simeone must create a tactical masterpiece in order to get past Bayern Munich.
A capable Diego Simeone must create a tactical masterpiece in order to get past Bayern Munich.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid will take Juve and Benfica's blueprints and improve upon them. If scrapping past their first two opponents was difficult, then 180 minutes against the most well-drilled (and possibly best-coached) side in Europe looks arduous.

It puts Guardiola's mission on high alert.

Accepting his current position before Jupp Heynckes' 2012/13 side won the treble, Guardiola has discovered attempting to replicate perfection is not straightforward.

The Bundesliga is unquestionably Bayern's domain. Winning the league three consecutive seasons, and presently atop the German standings by seven points over Borussia Dortmund, an argument exists that Guardiola's only real measure of success is European football.

Though managing one of the world's few superpowers, the 45-year-old is yet to reach a final during his stewardship of the Allianz Arena. Leaving for Manchester City this summer, the Spaniard's last chance to solidify his legacy is winning the Bavarians their sixth European Cup.

Married with Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich got the worst possible draw.
Married with Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich got the worst possible draw.FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

The official result of the #UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/Pvz577XZRc

— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) 15 April 2016

Judging Pep Guardiola's tenure on the Champions League legacy might be unfair, but it's the best measuring stick.
Judging Pep Guardiola's tenure on the Champions League legacy might be unfair, but it's the best measuring stick.Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Would losing to Atletico, in a vacuum, tarnish Guardiola? Not really. Having just beaten what many consider the best team in Europe, Barcelona, there is something special about Simeone's outfit, and losing to them is not shameful.

That said, we do not exist in vacuums. Bayern Munich are tasked with beating whichever team UEFA's spinning balls in pots dictate and—not receiving the more open, entertaining options of Manchester City or Real Madrid—breaking down a staunch defensive side is Guardiola's task, lest his tenure receive an asterisk.

Constructing a side to take down the Bundesliga cannot be the defining legacy of the former Barcelona manager's time in Germany. Winning three consecutive titles (and whatever accompanying domestic accolades) is terrific, but it is not outside reality to make this assertion: Guardiola was not hired to dominate Germany; he was hired to dominate Europe.

It seems an unfair request. A team cannot play down to their domestic rivals' level; they simply have to beat what is in front of them.

There are some things that cannot be defended against—Robert Lewandowski being one.
There are some things that cannot be defended against—Robert Lewandowski being one.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

As seen with Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, though, annually slaughtering one's domestic league is not always the best recipe for achieving European success. Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Manchester City (for example) face relatively stern competition on a weekly basis, which hardens them.

Bayern Munich—albeit a testament to their abundant skill—only lose in Germany when they have an off day. They could play well against Atletico and lose the tie; it is how the Champions League semi-finals work.

Guardiola has one last chance. Three games away from sealing his legacy at the San Siro, it would be fitting to end his reign by lifting Roberto Di Matteo's "cup with the big ears," but he must expertly navigate dangerous, perilous waters to do so.

His first test is doing something his last club could not manage: knocking out Atletico Madrid. 

*Stats via WhoScored.com; transfer fees via Soccerbase where not noted.