The Pep Episodes XXIX
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.
Roger Schmidt did what he does best: He gave his team instructions to run, fight, press, disrupt play and bug the opponents – and yes, even foul them occasionally. It was no surprise how Bayer Leverkusen played against Bayern Munich – they played as they always do, as Schmidt loves them to do: To run riot and create havoc on the pitch. The usually calm, possession-oriented Bayern of Pep Guardiola had problems with that approach. They struggled to keep the ball, find passing options, they didn’t even manage a single shot on goal in the first half.
In the second half, with the introduction of Thiago and especially Thomas Müller and with Douglas Costa on the wing and not in the middle of the pitch, where he seemed totally lost, Bayern looked far more comfortable, while Leverkusen began to tire. Müller wasted two good chances, Lewandowski another one, but in the last ten minutes Xabi Alonso got his second yellow card – so both teams settled for a 0:0-draw. “I’m not overly satisfied, but if you cannot win, at least make sure not to lose,” Lewandowski said afterwards. That’s pretty much the perfect summary, everybody in the BayArena agreed on both sides.
Guardiola’s men were close to winning it late, but struggled a lot the first 60 minutes against a pesky Schmidt eleven (Barcelona can tell a thing or two about that). “We have had a few problems passing the ball three, four, five times in a single move,” Guardiola admitted.
“Bayern got tangled up in Leverkusen’s thicket”, Süddeutsche Zeitung stated, calling Leverkusen an “unfamiliar clever opponent”. Clever, sure, but lucky too, because they escaped several bookings by the lenient referee Knut Kircher after hard and cynical challenges. In the first half, Leverkusen looked pretty much like Atletico Madrid, except for the expulsions and composure in the final third, their usual issue.
Bayern could live with the goalless draw also because rival Borussia Dortmund equally failed to get on the score sheet in Berlin (0:0). “Altogether, the intense, goalless draw was fair, even if Munich had the better chances”, summarized kicker sports magazine, adding there was “a little bit of peace” at camp Bavaria, a hint at the agitation at Säbener Street in the last couple of weeks.
It’s conspicuous that the media focus and coverage are still mainly about Pep and the atmosphere inside the locker room rather than about the games Bayern play. Imagine Dortmund would have won in Berlin, then Bayern’s draw would rather create more tense than “peace”, wouldn’t it? It’s all just a matter of the narrative…
One could think it seems like the media starts to have an agenda against the Catalan. “He could go before the season ends”, claims Focus Online astonishingly, saying Guardiola might lose his interest in working in Munich.
“There’s trouble brewing outside – but not inside the team”, Manuel Neuer already declared, “we don’t have homemade problems.” Guardiola and Sporting CEO Matthias Sammer tried to fight off all the buzz in a similar way, yet nobody seems to really pay attention. And the buzz could increase.
Of course the press is already looking at the crucial encounter against Juventus in the Champions League. A loss in the first game in Turin (23rd February), and the pressure on Guardiola would be more than huge. Pretty much every article already points at this game, Guardiola’s fate in Munich depends on the clash with Juve, the German media is summarizing. Every win would give him some needed peace and calm – every loss exactly the opposite.
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.