Guardiola the Biggest Loser In Going Toe-to-Toe With Messi
The saying goes that pride comes before a fall and never has it been more apt than Wednesday evening at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.
How else can you describe the madness in Pep Guardiola’s strategy of going toe-to-toe against the most potent strike force in the world?
Faced with Messi, Suarez and Neymar – three players with a combined 108 goals this season – Bayern Munich went with three at the back. Jose Mourinho must have been sniggering into his cravat.
Some hailed it as courageous as the dust settled after the game, suggesting Guardiola only wanted to win on the right terms. Rubbish. He was arrogant enough to think he could outfox Messi and co and play them at their own game. And he was wrong.
Guardiola predicted before the Champion’s League semi-final first leg that his former charge would be unstoppable and he clearly took it as a challenge rather than a threat.
Instead of putting three men on Messi, he put one. That’s not bold, it’s crazy and it seems more than likely now that barring a miracle in the second leg next week that Guardiola will be on his way by the end of the season, if not before.
He threw pretty much everything but the kitchen sink at Barcelona in an attempt to prove that he had the beating of the Argentinian wizard.
The result of the manic man-for-man marking Bayern attempted in the early minutes could very well have been giving up three goals in the first 15 minutes instead of the final 15.
Rafinha, Boateng and Benatia were stretched to breaking point every time the ball passed the halfway line. But for the heroics of Manuel Neuer in goal it could easily have been 5 or 6 to Barcelona.
Like many coaches of players touched with genius, think Phil Jackson with Michael Jordan or Pat Riley with Magic Johnson, the question will always be hovering somewhere in the background: how much of their success was really down to them?
In Guardiola’s case, his legacy took a battering in Barcelona this week.
Yes, his flawed strategy contributed to a terrific game. The technical ability on both sides was awesome and a lesson to players of all skill levels around the world and the Bayern team worked hard to try and make it work.
But World Cup winning striker Thomas Muller’s mini tantrum on the sideline told the real story. This is not the German way. The Bayern of old sought to steamroller the opposition not sidestep them.
The obvious strategy to stifle Barca’s superstars and hope to beat them back home in Munich was an affront to Guardiola’s sense of the way the game should be played and, more pertinently, to his image of himself as a coach.
For a while it almost seemed like he might emerge unscathed after switching back to a more conventional back four with no real harm done.
But Messi was always going to have the final say. It was just a matter of time.
Every time he touched the ball the expectation was there. For some, the burden of expectation would just be too high, the knowledge that when all else failed it was all down to him.
Such responsibility has broken lesser players.
But not Messi. With one sweet strike and a second chip of pure genius in the space of three minutes he had put the tie to rest. The breakaway third by Neymar added the exclamation point.
Barcelona is no Porto and there will be no way back for Bayern next Tuesday. Defeat may also mean there is no way back for Pep Guardiola.