Pep Guardiola is the tactical king of 3-dimensional chess for Bayern Munich | Launderer’s report


Football wasn’t always like this. In fact, it’s usually not like that. What is happening at Bayern Munich right now is brilliant and perhaps unique: a revolution playing out every week on global TV screens.

Pep Guardiola is ferociously intense and, it seems, increasingly thorny, while the hagiographic tone of Marti Perarnau’s recently published book about his first season at Bayern, Pep Confidentialmeant there was a lot of eyeball rolling.

But the thing is, the former Barcelona head coach is operating at the limits of what tactics can achieve.

He’s in a vanguard so far ahead of the main body that it seems, at times, he’s playing a different sport.

As Barcelona bought famous players and adopted a near-broken squad in the wake of Guardiolaseven behind the ball and see what the vaunted front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez can dothe focus and ferocity of their pressing has waned a lot since their peak.

MANU FERNANDEZ/Associated Press

As Carlo Ancelotti does a remarkable, if not entirely convincing, job of finding consistency in a jumble of superstars; like Premier League teamswith the exception of Chelsealive in their transition seasons, Bayern are about the only team at the top of the game to do something drastic tactically.

To watch Guardiola in action on the touchline is to see how fast his brain works, how constantly he comes up with new ideas.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Perarnau’s book is how Guardiola doubts himself, how he will come up with a plan for how his team should approach a particular match, then tear it up and start over.

Sometimes during matches he appears to be playing a complicated three-dimensional chess game in which only he can see the chessboard.

On television, of course, much of what he says and does is lost. Even in stadiums, only a fraction of what he does can be understood, but even this piece is fascinating.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

For example, when Bayern won 2-0 at Arsenal last season, Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs suffered the injury after 31 minutes and had to be substituted.

Guardiola immediately moved Arjen Robben from the left flank to join Mario Gotze on the right, doubling poor Nacho Monreal.

An arriving substitute often takes a few minutes to adjust to the pace of the game and Guardiola looked to take advantage of that immediately.

Sure enough, six minutes later, a move down that flank led to Wojciech Szczesny committing the foul that led to him being sent off.

Then, in the second half, once it became clear that Mesut Ozil had indeed shut downapparently mentally and physically exhaustedGuardiola overloaded on his flank.

And those were just the obvious switches, the ones that could be seen in the chaos of the game without resorting to statistical analysis.

The flow of instructions was constant; Guardiola spent the entire game looking for every possible advantage. That must make him exhausting to play, but his players seem to view him with something approaching adoration.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

In each game, it seems, the setup is different. For years, the accepted wisdom has been that the system of the future, the ground zero toward which tactical evolution was headedat least at the highest levelwas a team with 10 interchangeable midfielders.

Bayern aren’t there yet, but in Rome their formation was almost a 2-7-1, which overwhelmed Rudi Garcia’s side in a flurry of pressing and passing.

That’s what the constant changes in form are there to do: exploit weaknesses in the opposition’s defensive form and leave Guardiola’s side best equipped to shut down their preferred avenues of attack building when they don’t. are more in possession of the ball.

Of course, there are times when things go wrong, like against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final second leg last season. In this respect, it doesn’t help that Bayern are so much better than the rest of the Bundesliga.

But the risk is part of the joy. If it was easy to play with the kind of sophistication that Bayern do, everyone would be doing it. But it’s hard, and it can go wrong.

And that’s of course why you have to appreciate the efforts of a coach who pushes the limits of the game.

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