Pep, Thiago, and Tactics at Bayern Munich
By Alex Fairchild
Pep Guardiola will have to treble in style this year to beat out Jupp Heynckes. The former Barcelona manager has already made two high profile signings in Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara in order to make that happen. Rumor had it that the Bavarian outfit reeled in Robert Lewandowski, but Borussia Dortmund brushed that aside and appear to have their striker's services for another season.
With more than a month remaining till the end of the summer hijinks, it is safe to say that Bayern Munich is looking to monopolize football. They want to take the game's oligopolistic state, where there are several powerful teams, to a point where Munich is the pinnacle. There is nothing wrong with that. It leaves that team in the position to dominate this season, next season, and for the remainder of the foreseeable future.
Signing Gotze and Thiago has left Pep with so many tactical options that it is almost obscene, though these will certainly help him achieve his aspirations. The latest signing is a center midfielder who tends to feature in attacking roles. At the U-21 European Championship, his forward play was unlocked. Netting three times in the final and assisting once in the tournament, Thiago was the star of the team throughout its Israeli excursion. Averaging two key passes per game and passing accuracy of 93.2%, the ex-Barca man was unstoppable in midfield. His defensive play was impressive too, as he took the ball away from the opposition, through interceptions and tackles, nearly four times over the course of each match. Named to the competition's top XI by many, the man who slipped through Manchester United's hands will have to compete with a loaded midfield upon his arrival to the Bundesliga club.
With so many lethal players for Pep to choose from, it will be interesting to see where, if at all, Thiago will fit in the Bayern Munich lineup.
Last year, the treble winners in Germany played in a 4-2-3-1. Domestically, they used a possession-based style, which Thiago will know very well from his days in Catalonia. However, spots in the Munich team are all but taken.
The center midfielder lacks the experience of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who led the team to its success. Javi Martinez is a highly skilled footballer who defended against Barcelona last season in both legs and already competes with Luiz Gustavo, who will be eager to see lots of first team football in the build up to his country's World Cup. Martinez is fighting for a spot in the Spanish team as well. It is doubtful that Thiago will fit into a position that he lacks experience with even though he did show off his defensive discipline at this summer's Euros.
The terrible trio above the holders is home to Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, and Frank Ribery. Only one spot is up for grabs in the center park and that position belongs to a certain German. Muller is an extremely effective player who can only be replaced by Mario Gotze, though he has occupied that spot for years on end. In his time at Dortmund, Gotze made his name playing in the middle of the park in a very similar setup, making him the most likely of the two signings to gain Muller's place. Gotze is also more dynamic than his competition, as he owns experience playing up top and on the wings. One man has been left out of this paragraph so far - Gotze's and Muller's compatriot Toni Kroos. This fourth well-oiled youngster makes for a packed quad of youth. Muller and Kroos are 23, Gotze is 21, while Thiago is 22. Ribery, 30, and Robben, 29, are each coming off one of the best seasons of their respective careers and will be in no mood to see a starlet take their spot on a team favored to win the Champions League.
With talk that the five man midfield will change from a 2-3 to a 1-4, there could just be room for Thiago if Pep were to institute a new system. Kroos has been on the fringe at Munich, getting bits of playing time here and there, thus he would be the odd man out. A manager's first signings are usually preferred to replace a weak link in any side, thus the two attacking midfielders in a 4-1-4-1 would probably be Gotze/Thiago and Muller, though it is possible that the signings bump Muller from his post.
However, it would be an extremely odd move for Pep, as it makes no sense to change something that did not just work, but also excel. The team could counter and possess, which paid dividends and teaching Bayern a somewhat different way to play may turn out to be counterproductive. For Guardiola, the foundation has been established for him and all he has to do is plug pieces into the puzzle. Any move to the contrary would be to massage the manager's ego. The smart move for Pep would be to keep the current system, but tweak it if the team begins to flounder.
As for picking players, that is the business of Pep and his managerial staff. Us laymen are not allowed into training each day and do not see a player's day-to-day performance, nor do we see the amount of chemistry he has with other players, hence our minuscule ability to ferment opinions on weekly squad selection.
Nevertheless, the issue of team chemistry could also spell trouble for Thiago, as he will have to find his way into a team that lost a Champions League Final in front of their own fans, which is the ultimate team-building experience. As a forward player he will have to create strong relationships with his competition, as it is not the best players that Pep will play, but the most productive combination of the bunch. It will be paramount for Thiago, and of course Gotze, that each synchronizes well with others as Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martinez did last season. After all, a team of one is what worked for Barcelona. Out of La Masia, Pep oversaw a team that knew exactly where one another would be at all times in a match. It was a renaissance for the concept of 'total football.'
As outsiders have struggled to fit in with Barcelona, which has a relatively free-flowing system, it will be fascinating to see if Thiago and Gotze find their role in a structured Bayern Munich. At this point, it is only plausible that one of the signings can have an influence on the team's proceedings each week. As for which prodigy it will be, that is for the players and Pep to decide.
All stats from WhoScored.com