The Pep Episodes XXXI
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.
It was the long awaited meeting, a showdown of two European giants. Prior to Bayern Munich’s clash with Juventus in the quarter final of the Champions League, the talk was about Bayern’s defensive issues – about their “midget defense”, as the whole German media put it, pointing at the height of the backline. The inexperience of Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba as centre-backs added to this. There was a certain uncertainty about the solidity of Bayern’s defense – so they smartly decided to simply stay in possession of the ball and keep the opponent away from their own box. For long spells it was a very lopsided encounter at Juventus Stadium.
Juve, quite surprisingly, didn’t look like a team who hasn’t lost a single game in 14 matches in a row. They didn’t look like the proud Italian champion who is going to play ballsy and trying to expose Bayern’s weak point, their fragile backline. Much to the contrary, Juve rather looked like Chelsea. The Italians were parking the bus in the first half, allowing Bayern to have 72 percent of possession and dominating play just the way Guardiola and his team like it.
Thomas Müller opened the scoring for his superior side, Arjen Robben scored one of his trademark goals, cutting inside from the left and curling the ball in the far corner. At 0-2, one thought the game would be over. But Juventus, finally, found their balls somehow and came back from the dead. After two mistakes of the inexperienced stand-in centre-back Kimmich, first Dybala and afterwards Sturaro secured a flattering 2:2-draw for the Bianconeri. Who would have thought that you can cause Bayern’s backline troubles if you attack them? Apparently coach Max Allegri didn’t.
“We all are a bit disappointed,” bemoaned the striking Robben after the game: “When you are two goals up you have to finish off the match.” Guardiola was very happy with the display of his team, again you had the impression that mattered to him even more than the plain result. “I’m very satisfied with our performance. We played very well for 90 minutes. Obviously it would have been better to win, but we were playing against last year’s finalists. It was an incredible performance!”
The German media agreed. “Strong Bayern squander a 2:0-lead” after an “outstanding performance for long periods” of the game noted kicker sports magazine. Süddeutsche Zeitung went a little more abstract with their assessment, implying the Germans have been artists doing their admired work. But then “Juve poured a paint bucket on Bayern’s painting.” Sheer dominance, at least for 60 minutes still wasn’t enough. Der Spiegel saw a “great performance with small flaw”.
Nonetheless, the draw is a good result for Guardiola’s men. “We can live with a 2-2 draw. We’re in a good position for the return. Juventus are a very good team. We let them back into the game due to our own mistakes, but we can definitely take heart from the first 60 minutes,” captain Lahm stated.
Bayern thought they’d suffer from long balls, crosses and dead balls, but in fact they didn’t – mainly because Juve was too cautious and Kimmich and Alaba have been attentive at the back – beside the two goals they conceded of course. Asked about the performance of Kimmich and his role at both goals, Guardiola claimed: “Kimmich was perfect.” It was his customary exaggeration to protect his players.
In the second leg, the Bianconeri have to be brave for a change, this time they need a win if they want to progress. Guardiola, looking at the comeback of Juve, already issued a warning: “It’ll be just as tough in the return leg as it was today. Juventus have great mental strength.” Mental strength will surely help, but a decent game plan wouldn’t be too bad either.
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.