The Pep Episodes XXI
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.
Did Bayern just discover a new centre forward? The scoreline was 1-1 in a pretty dull and rather uneventful game at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke 04 played – of course – cautiously, Bayern had possesion but no bright ideas how to create opportunities. But then, surprisingly for the spectators and Schalke’s two centrebacks, their new striker rose in the box and headed a Robben cross in the perfect manner of a real number 9 past Schalke goalkeeper Fährmann to give Bayern the 2-1 lead. Only it wasn’t a striker who did so, it was Javi Martinez, Bayern’s centreback.
After Bayern won 3-1, Robben himself wondered about Martinez’ appearence in an unfamiliar position. “I don’t know what he did there”, the Dutchman said, adding: “He had a rough time because of his injuries, the goal surely is something special for him.” In contrast to the Spaniard, for Bayern the win wasn’t so special at all – not just because everybody is used to the Bavarians winning against every opponent in the Bundesliga; but because it was a pretty lacklustre performance. Or, as German media puts it, an “ungrateful job” or a “hard earned victory” on a terrible pitch against a defensive Schalke team.
“The turf wasn’t good, it was tough against Schalke’s back five. It was difficult to win here, but we succeeded. It’s three more points,” Pep Guardiola said afterwards, while Müller noted the same thing as always: “Our opponents make it difficult for us, the back five is quite popular at the moment. Our opponents try everything, so we have to give 100 percent in every match.” Thanks to Martinez who broke the deadlock, Guardiola was happy with his team: “We did very well until we conceded the goal. After the break we controlled the match again.”
Later, Müller brought up their favourite topic: Rigid opponents who only have in mind to destroy Bayern’s game. So Müller moaned that Schalke “parked the bus”. How dare they?
The idealism in the Bavarian camp is due to their incredible superiority to the rest of the league. Typically, in Germany the end justifies the means. So how do the coaches approach a game against Guardiola’s giants? Pretty much everbody has the same idea: If you can’t outplay Bayern (if you’re not Barcelona or Dortmund on their day, you can’t), try to park the bus to achieve a goalless draw or hit them on the occasionally counterattack.
By trying to exercise that, almost every opponent sits deep and settles for a much desired draw or ultimately surrenders, so the matches either end in a dull meeting (see this time or for example in Frankfurt) or a proper thrashing (see almost every home game of Bayern).
But if Bayern would admit that they are unmatched and uncontested throughout the country, they would surely reduce a little bit of the much needed sharpness, focus and desire to win games against stubborn opponents. For the Bundesliga it wouldn’t change much of course, the title is already a walk in the park – but there are bigger objectives down the road for the Bavarians. International ones of course.
The eagerness to succeed is what keeps them going. That’s why Guardiola still tells his fairytale stories before and after every single game in the German top flight. According to him, it was “a big win” against Schalke because they are “one of the best teams in Germany”. It’s not sure if that’s a compliment for the Bundesliga. But it keeps Bayern sharp.
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 .