Almost an article in the Journal of Irreproducible Results
by Arda Alan Işık
ISTANBULMar 19, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Arda Alan Işık
Mar 19, 2016 12:00 am
When the scoreboard signaled the final moments, the Allianz Arena was completely in shock to see their Bavarian war machine had been crushed by an old Italian tractor. They got an advantageous result in Turin, but the first half was horrible for Bayern Munich against Juventus: No one could have guessed that the Italians would dominate the game this much. Nevertheless, in the same final moments, when traditional football columnists sat in their comfortable chairs to celebrate Pep Guardiola's fall, Thomas Muller's equalizer saved the day for football beggars.
However, there were still some people who believe Juve have found the way to crush Guardiola's dominant formula, as if the Italians played a completely different game than what they have played for the last 10 years. Jonathan Wilson, a distinguished football columnist, wrote a piece on how this so-called new way of pressing can severely damage Guardiola's strategy:
"Push hard and push high in controlled bursts, and you will rattle Bayern. Close down Neuer's options, and he can be turned from sui generis genius into something not far from a liability. Their high line and their commitment to getting men forward to support the attack means they can be vulnerable to direct running counters - something Angel Di Maria demonstrated two years ago as Alvaro Morata did this season. Massimiliano Allegri has offered the blueprint; it's up to other clubs to follow it."
Well, I guess Wilson jumped directly from 2010 to 2016 before the game and missed how the neo-con way of football discovered that high-pitched press long before Guardiola arrived in Munich. Yes, the right way of disrupting the opponent's buildups is pressing hard and high, but the real questions are how to do it and what will follow it. As Juventus displayed against Bayern, the old-fashioned way of doing front-line press is to keep at least six men back in defense and conduct shock presses on your opponent's defense. Of course, if the opponent does not have a settled plan about how to build up a game, this neo-con preventive strike strategy may very well create chances near the opponent's penalty box. Yet, what if the opponent is able to carry the ball to your field? That is when things get messy.
As Wilson repeatedly pointed out in his piece, it was a particularly horrible day for Bayern Munich. They were not able to produce opportunities, and they would have lost the game to Juve in the first half if the referee had not been there to rescue them. Nevertheless, normally Munich is able to cross their own half without problem given Guardiola's strategy shortens the length of the game and creates a lot of passing options in a narrow space. This time, neither the defense nor Manuel Neuer assumed the playmaker role in the defense, and the game eventually turned the penalty box into a Ping-Pong table. If they hadn't been so clumsy about the way they built the game from defense, Juve would not have been able to hurt them so much.
Added to that, another reason why the offense was not creative enough and seemed to only make horizontal passes was that they tried to cross the ball from the wings. Even though Wilson praised Guardiola's new method of creating opportunities, I believe unpredictable and naturally chaotic crosses can never offer the strategic guarantee that patient but dynamic passing around the opponent's penalty box can. Just as at Barca, Guardiola should form sets to implement around the penalty box and should not rely on occasional crosses.
Most of Bayern's opponents wouldn't dare to play a productive and consistent game against them; hence, there is no reason to give them a chance to get away with irreproducible results by obeying their method. Guardiola should radicalize his game as he did in his last year in Barcelona, only then can Bayern Munich, Manchester City and football move ahead.