Sunday 22 April 2018

Pep under pressure to deliver for Bayern in Europe

Tonight Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich side must repair the damage from last week's damaging first leg defeat to Porto
Tonight Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich side must repair the damage from last week's damaging first leg defeat to Porto

Tim Rich

It was an astonishing question to ask a man who is on the point of winning a second, successive Double, whose team are 12 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with a goal difference of plus 63. Would Pep Guardiola still be at the Allianz Arena next season?

The Bayern Munich coach looked supremely relaxed, wearing a T-shirt that demanded justice for an Argentine journalist, Jorge Lopez, killed in a suspicious road accident involving Brazilian police during last summer's World Cup. "My future is to have a day off on Wednesday, to take training on Thursday and, of course, to be here next year," he said.

And yet there are fault lines visible that came to a head after a disastrous night in Porto last week.

The quarter-finals of this season's Champions League should have been a staging post on the road to the final in Berlin. Bayern had avoided Barcelona, the two Madrid clubs and the new money of Paris Saint-Germain. The trip to Portugal ought to have been routine. Instead, they found themselves two down inside 10 minutes and were fortunate to have lost the first leg by just a 3-1 margin. They must repair the damage tonight.

The problem is that those who delivered the treble in 2013 and reached three European Cup finals since 2010 is ageing. Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry and Philipp Lahm are over 30.

Guardiola has always preferred to have a small squad, partly because it is easier to keep focused and partly because he abhors the confrontation that comes with dropping players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's chief memory of Guardiola at the Nou Camp was never being able to have a proper face-to-face discussion with his coach. However, the smaller the squad, the more vulnerable it is to injuries and by the time they left the field at the Estadio do Dragao last week, they were beginning to mount.

Guardiola appeared to blame Bayern's medical staff, led by Hans Müller-Wohlfahrt, a 72-year-old who combined his work at Bayern with being the chief doctor to Germany's World Cup-winning national side. Wohlfahrt's response was to quit and take his entire team with him.

His clients have included from Boris Becker to Paula Radcliffe and Usain Bolt. Guardiola felt Müller-Wohlfahrt was devoting too much time to his private clients. When Lahm was involved in a training-ground injury, Müller-Wohlfahrt was in his office eight miles away.

Guardiola's training staff had to organise an ambulance to take the Bayern captain to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken ankle. For Guardiola, who banned the practice of Bayern's supporters' clubs bringing cakes into the dressing room as a thank you after the gentlest of pre-season friendlies, this was unforgivably lax.

Since coming to Munich, April has been Guardiola's cruellest month. Almost exactly 12 months ago, came what he described as "the f*** up" against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Just as they did in Porto, Bayern lost the first leg - this time 1-0.

For the return in the Allianz, Guardiola radically altered his formation. The result was a humiliating 4-0 defeat. Then as now, Bayern were crippled by injuries. Then as now they had not broken sweat domestically and the lack of pressure was starting to show.

Outwardly Guardiola appeared supremely confident. "A 2-0 win for Bayern would not be the kind of result that would send shockwaves around the world," said the man whose last Champions League match at home saw them put seven past Shakhtar. "This is the Champions League and this is one of the reasons you coach a big team, the situation is ... wow!"

Bayern Munich v Porto,

live, TV3/Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport