Guardiola’s handcuffs – turn on or turn off?

Justin Separator September 2, 2016

The reactions to Scholl’s statement have shown how much his view polarised. Additionally Ottmar Hitzfeld (former Bayern coach and two time Champions League winner) also went down this rhetorical path and described Ancelotti’s Bayern as a team with “more freedom”.

If one takes a closer look, it’s easy to recognise how much the new Bayern coach benefits from the work of his predecessor. The players also underline this thesis, even if some critical quotes have been released in the last days. Every player acknowledges the tactical development under Guardiola. It’s their foundation for the current style of play. Javi Martinez, for example, talked about the many similarities between the two coaches and he had only positive things to say about his former coach (part 1 | part 2). Team captain Philipp Lahm is another player who doesn’t have a single bad thing to say about his former coach. The 32-year-old contradicts Scholl’s thesis and even emphasizes the importance of the positional play.

Carlo Ancelotti has worked for many great clubs. Still I would be so bold to argue that he hasn’t taken over a team with this level of flexibility, tactical knowledge and established structures, yet. A team which has not only mastered positional play in Guardiola’s school of football, but also to find one or many answers to almost any development within the course of a game.

Of course, the styles of play of these two special coaches will be the stuff for many discussions to come. When they are carried with respect and in a matter of fact way, this could even get very interesting. Here on Miasanrot we also already analysed the differences between the few games under Ancelotti’s tutelage and the last seasons. It makes even more sense to think about the possibilities of how a combination of Guardiola and Ancelotti football could complement each other. A symbiosis of both philosophies is the clear target of Bayern’s current coach and for good reasons.

Lots of Ancelotti, but with frequent Guardiola

The opening game of the Bundesliga season against Werder Bremen already showed how Bayern’s opponents are not always willing to grant them a more cautious approach. Ancelotti clearly benefited from the philosophy of the last years. Despite his efforts to implement a more direct and faster approach with the ball and to become less dependent on ball possession, the awareness of dangerous areas on the pitch still had a touch of Guardiola. The team occupied these areas properly last weekend and thus was able to quickly advance the ball into the final third.

Of course, the surprisingly weak display of Werder almost seemed to invite these actions, but the movements within the Bayern game looked very familiar. Diagonal runs by Lahm in the penalty area leading to his goal or the interactions between the three central players Alonso, Thiago, and Vidal were only two of many examples.

The critique about Guardiola fixating his players in a certain system are to some extent understandable. The daily work with the Catalan coach was probably mentally more demanding. Some interviews have also shown how some players were unhappy when their freedom on the pitch was restricted or when they played on new positions; Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski come to mind here. Carlo Ancelotti will probably cut back on these aspects, which could become an advantage.

On the other hand it also is not a disadvantage to have several players in the squad who do have the understanding to play on many positions. Especially since Guardiola had good reasons to do so. He not only improved the players, but he created many successful ways to being successful against opponents and team-intern set-backs.

Especially the offensive wingers seems to enjoy a larger degree of freedom this season. Ribery for example often moves inside to support in the center of the pitch. This movements leads to some lost efficiency in the counter-pressing compared to last seasons. Under Guardiola it was essential to create this early pressure. Bayern now tries to drop deeper after losing possession. Thus granting Werder Bremen a passing accuracy of 76%, higher than in their last meetings.

Not monopolizing the possession could also generate some benefits. The games against Atletico Madrid will be very interesting in this aspect. Bayern have already changed their style to get the ball forward with a lot more risk. This leads to a higher probability to lose the ball, but also the opportunity to create good chances in the final third. To lower the value of possession is probably the biggest intervention in Guardiola’s established style of play.

Bayern Munich has been very successful in recent years. Three Champions League semi-final appearances, three Bundesliga titles, two DFB cups, the UEFA Supercup and the FIFA Club Word Cup are an outstanding achievement. Guardiola made the team more flexible and implemented new systems and formations. He furthermore prolonged the successful run of a team that had just reached their peak.

Exactly here lies Carlo Ancelotti’s big chance. His predecessor has left him with a team capable of performing at the top level in many circumstances. The Italian can build upon that. Not without reason has Ancelotti repeatedly stated his intention to not revolutionize Bayern’s game.

Ex and new coach successful together?

To pick up the gruesome metaphor about “Guardiola’s handcuffs” for a last time: The Italian is well advised to loosen them in certain areas, but he shouldn’t do away with them altogether. Bayern have unleashed their power a couple of time in recent history. Guardiola’s impact on the game was tremendous. One could get the impression he was able to influence the course of the game like no Bayern coach before. In other words, he put not only his own team into handcuffs, but also his opponents.

The Catalan tried to adapt his team based on their opponent. He generated solutions based on his own style of play to counter the weak sports in their rival’s approach to the game. Ancelotti, on the other hand, is more pragmatic. He tries to find the best possible system for his best players, to maximize their wellbeing. The Italian often sticks to the same approach. This leaves the opponent the chance to adapt to the Bayern game. It’s also possible that the combination of the well-practiced automatisms under the new coach and the team’s tactical development of the last years will work nicely together. Thus one should not focus on the Guardiola-elements which will disappear, but at those that will remain. A symbiosis of the ideas of both coaches could grant a bright success story.

Ancelotti’s legacy will probably be based upon his trophy collection rather than his further development of the style of play. The expectation level has reached new heights and also shifted from finding a Bayern identity on the field to a focus on winning the big silverware. While Guardiola was part of a three-phased plan to create a Bayern playing style, Ancelotti seems to focus only on winning titles. This can work out. If it does, one should not forget to look at the last three years to make a fair assessment.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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