The Pep Episodes XVI
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 are created by Alex Truica and originally published at Grup14.com
The more you change, the more can go wrong. Thomas Tuchel, considered the mastermind to challenge the other big mastermind in Germany – Pep Guardiola – tried some things to outclass his opponent on Sunday. Tuchel switched Sven Bender from central midfield to centre back, Sokratis from centre back to right back and Piszczek from right back to left back, but things actually didn’t quite work out for Borussia Dortmund the way Tuchel intended.
Before Tuchel took over Dortmund, he and Guardiola met each other in a Restaurant in Munich. They reportedly enjoyed their evening, having fun while talking fervently for hours, especially about tactics. Therefore they used salt and pepper shakers – even from other tables – to play a special tactical chess game on their table. They got so engrossed in their conversation even the waiter was afraid to interrupt them. Now, a few months later, they finally met on the pitch. It’s not known who won the salt-and-pepper matches at the restaurant, but the real one at the Allianz Arena got a clear winner of the tactical battle: Pep Guardiola – after Bayern defeated Dortmund 5-1.
Surprisingly, Guardiola’s Bayern used a rather untypical method to destabilize Tuchel’s BVB – long balls. A Guardiola-team playing long balls? Initially it sounds odd, but it worked out perfectly. Boateng hit two precise passes to Müller (1-0) and Lewandowski (3-1) across the pitch, Dortmund didn’t expect that (especially goalkeeper Bürki, who looked awful at both goals) and was done with the third goal of the Bavarians right after the second half started. After that, Bayern played their usual style, things looked easy again against a psychologically defeated opponent. Lewandowski scored his second (and his ninth goal in just three games!), even Götze, who got a start in a big game, bagged one against his former club.
“Bayern surprised us by using those long balls from their centre backs”, Tuchel admitted after the game.” Guardiola said his team “adapted to Borussia Dortmund’s tactics” after Bayern had “problems in the first 15 minutes”. In chess, you would call it checkmate. “Dortmund pushed up as far as the halfway line. It was difficult to play as we usually do, with short passes into the gap,” Müller explained the different and yet successful approach. The 5-1 thumping was impressive and a bit over the top, but “it was a big point of course,” as Müller put it: “We’ve stretched our lead to seven points, and we’ve sent a strong message with the manner in which we won.” Guardiola was happy, because he beat Tuchel (even if he didn’t admit that) and because “we won against one of the best teams in Europe.”
It was indeed a message to the rest of the Bundesliga, but not a good one – for neutrals. “Bayern thrash not only teams like Hamburg and Dinamo Zagreb, but now even their only real adversaries in the Bundesliga,” Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) pointed towards the 5-1 against BVB and Wolfsburg a couple of weeks ago. “Only Bayern are going to be German champions” newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) put it pretty clearly after the “demonstration of power.”
Dortmund was predestined to be a challenger under Tuchel, but not even the second best team had a chance against the Champions, who won eight out of eight games and are seven points clear on top of the table. Well, so much for a proper challenger and an exciting title-race. The question is rather: Is Bayern going to get the championship shield in April, March or even February? “It is done”, SZ put it succinctly, adding there is a “monoculture on top of the table”. So no title race whatsoever. Is it even a proper race if there’s only one horse galloping away while the other ones are still in their stables? SZ pointed the finger at that issue, calling it fittingly a “dramaturgic problem” of the Bundesliga. “Bayern are without competition – even in Europe they are the best team,” detected Kicker sports magazine.
Bayern and Guardiola won’t care about a lack of Bundesliga suspense of course. “I congratulate my players, not only for this match, but for the last few months,” the Catalan said with a smile. Needless to say that Thomas Tuchel didn’t smile at all.
The Pep Episodes are 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.