The Pep Episodes XIX
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 major talk this week was about perfection. Has Pep Guardiola created a perfect Bayern side? The clash with Cup holders and Bundesliga runner-up VfL Wolfsburg was much anticipated, and it ended up in a demonstration of power. At half time, an impressive Bavarian side led comfortably 3-0 – in Wolfsburg, by the way. The Wolves didn’t know what had happened to them. Self-confidence, fluidity, creativity, accurancy – Bayern had it all.
“Pep’s perfect Bayern”, ran the headline of kicker sports magazine. On the website they stated: “Pep Guardiola’s team probably never played better than that.” The whole media praised the performance and form of the German Champions. At thursday’s press conference, Journalists even asked if they play perfect at the moment. Guardiola immediately denied that. “Perfection doesn’t exist”, he replied. “We did well, we won against a big, big opponent. But that’s it.” Then the Catalan added, the current chorus of praise would be exaggerated. “Every day our players read: Everything is easy, we are much better, we are the champions, we are beautiful, we are awesome. But we are in October. No-one has every clinched the championship title in October.”
After the talk of perfection, on Friday in their Bundesliga encounter in Frankfurt, Bayern have been brought back down to earth pretty quickly. In an – for some – accustomed manner. With the nemesis of perfect beautiful football: sheer destructive football.
If you are a fan of Real Madrid or especially FC Barcelona, you are used to opponents playing like that for many years. So are the players and officials of the two Spanish clubs. For Germans – apparently in particular for the players of Bayern – it was a new quality in their experience. Eintracht Frankfurt parked the bus (some might even say it was more like an airplane), playing with five and at times even six players in their last line and everyone behind the ball. Forward Seferovic even played as a second full back at times. The rigid, cynical and strong defensive performance of the home team held Bayern to an unexpected 0-0-draw, much to the outrage of their players. “I haven’t experienced something like that before,” said Jerome Boateng, being indignant about Frankfurt’s approach in the Commerzbank Arena. “They defended 30 meters in front of their goal with ten men.”
Captain Philipp Lahm complained: “We’ve been standing here after matches in the last weeks and said that our opponents played very, very defensive. And one couldn’t imagine that it would be possible to be even more defensive. But tonight, we were taught better.” Lahm noted, Frankfurt “virtually played 6-3-1 or something like that”, while Boateng rhetorically asked if that would be “pleasant for football if everybody plays that defensive against us.” Arturo Vidal, who isn’t exactly famous for being a virtuoso of the beautiful game, even said: “It was hard to play football today. They defended with all their players. That’s not football.”
While Bayern nagged, the supporters and players of Frankfurt cheered frenetically after the final whistle. If you didn’t look at the scoreline, you could have the impression that Armin Veh’s team had just won the game. “It’s the biggest point I’ve ever achieved”, said Frankfurt’s goalkeeper Hradecky with a huge smile, and even added with a grin, the draw would feel like “one and a half points”. The Hessians surely felt like they had beaten Guardiola’s team, who dropped points for the first time in the Bundesliga. “The most precious 0-0 of the league”, noted Süddeutsche Zeitung, pointing to the much discussed boredom of the top flight with dominating Bayern and 17 chanceless rivals. What Frankfurt did was building up “road blocks”, the newspaper noted.
“Football is not always what you wish for”, Guardiola stated rather tight-lipped, “we had little of room.” And the defensive tactics? “The opponent can play the way he wants.” Guardiola didn’t criticize the highly destructive approach by Frankfurt – surely because he’s simply used to opponents playing like that from his days at Barça. Apparently, his players still have to get used to it.
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.