The essential logic behind Pep Guardiola's football philosophy remains beautiful in its simplicity: When your team has the ball, the other side doesn't. Without the ball, opponents cannot score, they tire and drift out of position chasing after it, and that opens gaps which your quick-thinking, passing and moving players should exploit.
The dizzying Spirograph of Guardiola's game, executed by players who lived and breathed it and, most importantly, not only kept but made devastating use of the ball, made him the most successful coach in Barcelona's history.
Because he is smart and because his philosophy is still sound, Guardiola will make it work again at Bayern Munich. The ghost of "tiki-taka" possession-driven football will come back to haunt those who read it last rites when Real Madrid unpicked Guardiola's team this week on its way to the Champions League final. Twitter wits circulated a photo of a tombstone engraved "RIP Tiki Taka 2008-2014." As Mark Twain might have said, that was greatly exaggerated.
Perhaps Guardiola even did too well in this, his first season at the German club that won the Champions League last year. Winning the Bundesliga in record time, nearly two months early and with seven games to spare, acted like Kryptonite. Guardiola and his team went de-mob happy and lost some of their super powers. The defense that gave away just 13 goals in 27 league games then shipped nine in the next five. Against Real, Bayern looked like someone who after too long on the couch gets up to discover that their legs have fallen asleep.
Possession-driven teams don't lose simply because they have too much of the ball. They lose when they don't put the ball into the opponent's net enough times. It is the execution of the philosophy, not the philosophy itself, that's faulty.
At Barcelona, the possession game that won Guardiola an unprecedented 13 trophies in four seasons had the world's best player, Lionel Messi, on the end of it. Bayern, in contrast, failed to turn 64-percent possession against Real into prizes. Not one of its 24 corners over two legs of the semifinal, for example, resulted in a Bayern goal.
At Barcelona, get the ball, pass the ball was drilled into the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Messi since their days at the club's La Masia youth academy, one reason why its style of play isn't transplantable everywhere or easily. Against Real, Bayern players looked like they're still thinking, not feeling, what Guardiola expects. Attacks were methodical, not surprising.
Back in his laboratory this summer, expect Guardiola to keep experimenting. The arrival from Borussia Dortmund of striker Robert Lewandowski will give him a new ingredient to play with. Guardiola will weigh whether his philosophy can become second-nature for the players he has or if it — or they — will need tweaking.
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