The Pep Episodes XXX

In this edition of the Pep Episodes: The injury drama continues, so Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola have to field a midget defensive lineup and play smart.

This article is part of a partnership with Grup 14, an organization dedicated to Futbol Club Barcelona and supporters around the world. The Pep Episodes is created by Alex Truica and originally published at Grup14.com.

Slowly, you start to think that Pep Guardiola’s reign at Bayern really seems to be cursed – or at least to be ill-fated. The curse surely comes to your mind when thinking about Holger Badstuber. The centre back just can’t catch a break from injuries – on Saturday the club announced that he fractured his ankle and is out for three months again. Badstuber’s long period of suffering continues, he has made just 17 league appearances since the start of 2013 due to a succession of injuries. And Guardiola’s fate continues as well, since he just lost another defensive player due to injury within three weeks. No Javi Martinez, no Jerome Boateng, now no Badstuber – at least Medhi Benatia returned to training on Monday.

Against Augsburg, Bayern played with David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich as centre backs – and they did well again. “It’s almost impossible to play better than Joshua did in his last two games”, the Catalan manager lauded the defensive midfielder. “It’s the first time in my life that I play a game without a [real] centre back”, Guardiola admitted, saying that with the right attitude, you can make up for it as a whole: “The team spirit is the most important thing.” And Bayerns spirit was truly sound again.

Robert Lewandowski scored a brace in irresistible fashion and Thomas Müller sealed the 3-1 win in the Bavarian Derby. “Lewandowski compensates the defensive drama”, said Süddeutsche Zeitung, pointing out the fine form of the Polish striker. Augsburg’s coach Markus Weinzierl was full of praise for him and lauded his “individual world class”. That and the fact he has no injury woes are pleasing Pep Guardiola. “Robert is very professional, even in his private life he focuses on football, football and football. He’s never injured and always there.” Since Guardiola has no proven central defence anymore, at least he can rely on his goal scorers. Lewandowski has 21 league goals (one more than Dortmund’s Aubameyang), Müller 15. No attacking duo has scored 36 goals together at this point of time in the Bundesliga. Lewandowski is already one of the best strikes in the world, maybe just a little bit behind a certain Luis Suarez – and still Guardiola surprisingly stated: “He can still make three, four steps forward to be a better player.”

Bayern dedicate their win to Badstuber

You can say that the win was thanks to Lewandowski – but it surely was for Badstuber. Bayern dedicated the win to the German international, not only the players wore red T-Shirts to encourage him (“We are with you, you can do it again”), even Guardiola wore one throughout the entire game on the sideline. After the match he revealed: “We are satisfied with this win, it was especially for Holger.”

This time, no defenders were no problem – again. With all due respect to Weinzierl’s team, it was still only Augsburg. The big, if not huge test is coming up soon: Juventus in the Champions League. Without Badstuber, Martinez and Boateng, “Guardiola may have to solve the trickiest puzzle of his admired career”, noted German news agency dpa, while kicker sports magazine called Badstuber’s injury a “drama”, after which Bayern has to face “many questions”. So the game against Augsburg was an “acceptance trial”, and one with a very small backline. Bernat (1,70 meters), Alaba (1,80), Kimmich (1,76) and Lahm (1,70) are not the tallest ones, Bayern already fear the aerial power of Juventus – so they’re hoping for Serdar Tasci (1,86) and Benatia (1,89) to return to form quickly. “He still needs some time”, sporting director Matthias Sammer said about winter signing Tasci who suffered a concussion in his very first training with his new team and isn’t in the best shape yet.

Looking at his short players, Guardiola said: “Every team in the world is stronger in the air than we are”, naming two of them, Bayern’s next opponents: “Darmstadt is, Juventus is”. Then the Catalan gave a list of several tall players of the Italian Champions who are going to threaten the Bavarian airspace next Tuesday.

Bayern, once more, have to cope with their physical disadvantage, so they have to play smart. Guardiola should know how to compete with a very small lineup back from his days in Barcelona, where he usually only had three players taller than 1,80m. “If we defend deep, we have no chance”, he noted, because then Juve would probably penetrate them with crosses. So Bayern have to defend high up the pitch, trying to win back the ball as early as possible – Guardiola’s usual defensive credo. Or they simply don’t give the ball away. And if still a cross suddenly comes along? Sammer has the solution: ”Then they simply have to jump higher.”

The Pep Episodes is a weekly column about the adventures of Pep Guardiola in Munich exclusively written for Grup14 by Alex Truica, a freelance sports journalist and editor. You can follow him on Twitter.



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