Saturday 7 December 2019

If Bayern fail it would be a huge mistake for me – Guardiola

Manager convinced Munich can overcome 'defensive' United as fans' demand for success ramps up pressure

Manchester United v Bayern Munich
Manchester United v Bayern Munich
Pep Guardiola head coach of Bayern Muenchen

Ian Chadband

With their FC Hollywood swagger, Bayern Munich are not the sort of club you would associate with self-doubt and fragility, especially after a season in which they have set several benchmarks of excellence.

Yet for all that, there were a few hints of nervousness around the Allianz Arena here as coach Pep Guardiola conceded that if Bayern failed to overcome Manchester United tonight it would be too much to bear for Germany's champions.

"If we are not in the semi-finals, it is a huge mistake for us, for me, the new manager," conceded Guardiola, who hopes to emulate the treble-winning season last year of predecessor Jupp Heynckes.

"If we are not in the Champions League final, this club cannot deal with that. It's very important me, for the team, and I knew that before I came here. I knew that I have got to be in the situation so I can also get this treble. If I don't do that, then, hey, it's not so good. I have to accept this."

In other words, Guardiola accepts that if Bayern slip he will be perceived to have failed, something to which he is not accustomed. Being the pass master he is, though, he is adamant that his side will find a way to breach the massed "eight or nine-man" defence, which he is convinced will again be David Moyes' modus operandi, and move closer to becoming the first team to retain the Champions League.

If that represents considerable pressure for the Spaniard, then he was doing his best to mask it, saying with a shrug: "I'm an optimist. I don't know why but I am." He was, he said, certain they would qualify.

His mood was so affable that he offered a warm welcome to the English journalist whom he had demanded De Niro-like to "look at me" in an irritable post-match outburst at Old Trafford.

It was evidently needed, hearing the negative tone of questioning from the locals. They wanted to know if his side had lost rhythm and confidence after failing to win three successive games. In these parts, that amounts to a crisis, even if Guardiola has reminded anyone caring to query why he fielded the experimental side that surrendered Bayern's two-year, 53-game unbeaten league sequence to Augsburg on Saturday that "the Bundesliga's done, the trophy's in the museum".

Then there was their concern about Bayern's curiously poor recent record against English opposition in the Allianz Arena. They have failed to win only four of their past 18 Champions League games in their spaceship of a stadium and each blip was against an English side.

Not that Guardiola sounded worried, even if he has become used to English massed defences and attempted smash-and-grab operations since his Barca days, such as Chelsea's successful 2012 semi-final heist. "It's never, never easy, in my experience, in the Champions League against English teams. Not all teams, but most of them. They are so defensive and use the counter-action very, very, very well," he said, sounding almost admiring of the approach.

"When they play at home, they attack a little bit more but when they play away, they defend. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe David Moyes thinks another thing, but I think they (United) are going to wait back, with eight or nine players in the box, await our mistake and wait for a free-kick or a corner to punish us. So we cannot afford a mistake and have to be cleverer in attack."

Guardiola bemoaned the fact that, with the suspensions of key midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, and a host of injuries, he was down to the bare bones with only 14 players at his disposal. Maybe, but it is one hell of a handsome skeleton.

Perhaps Bavarians are just trying to find more things to worry about after the club's equilibrium was disturbed here by the prison sentence for the club's leading light, Uli Hoeness. Some will even tell you the juggernaut has started to malfunction slightly since the club's former president was convicted last month for tax evasion. They do not get overly superstitious, though. Never mind the pressure that Moyes has had in following Alex Ferguson; here, Bayern do not so much expect, as demand, that Guardiola delivers and there is a possibility, with the European Super Cup and World Club Cup in the bag, that he could end his debut season with five trophies.

Do not bet against it. Here, Guardiola radiated confidence as he talked of creating a team who are only going to set new landmarks. Asked to explain his philosophy, he said: "It is just to convince the players of the best way to win the games. To help them to enjoy our lives, enjoy our game, to become a better team and better human beings and to try to win the games.

"That's my motivation. I want to continue to be here because I have the feeling we can get better.

"Right now the team is not complete, it's not good enough, and that's why I feel I need more time. We can still move forward." Of the multiple threats to United, Guardiola's focus is the principal one. (© Daily Telegraph, London)



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