It may come as a source of comfort as cold as your average Bavarian winter, but Bayern Munich's Champions League exit does have an up-side. Not that the soon-to-be former European champions will benefit much, but it does mean the high-grade, numerous contingent of Bayern players likely to be sunning themselves in the hope of World Cup success in this summer will be able to take part in Joachim Löw's Nationalmannschaft pre-tournament training camp in southern Tirol for ten days of blood, sweat and not much schnapps from 21 May.
That means Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm & Co. will be able to put their feet up, sit back and endure the Champions League final on 24 May in the cosy confines of a five-star hotel rather than out on the pitch of the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. And they may just ponder the reasons why they are not there?
"We didn't play well. That's my responsibility," claimed Pep Guardiola after Tuesday's 4-0 second-leg defeat to Real Madrid, Bayern's highest-ever home loss among European club football's creme de la creme, and their biggest defeat in front of their own fans since Arminia Bielefeld triumphed in similar fashion in 1979.
There is no doubt the Spanish coach has his part in the blame. Bayern bigwig Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had brashly told kicker, "Guardiola will find the key" to unlocking Madrid after the 1-0 first-leg loss. With two years left on his contract, Guardiola is unlikely to now have to find the key to unlocking the Allianz Arena door marked 'Ausgang', but he certainly failed to prepare his team to match Madrid.
Not that he could do much about David Alaba ball-watching for the first goal - perhaps the Austrian was bewitched by Luka Modric's increasingly luxurious locks, Madrid hairdressers must be in heaven! - or Mario Mandzukic being left to handle Sergio Ramos for the second with Dante and Jerome Boateng both stalking Cristiano Ronaldo to no effect.
But Madrid's third goal was really so un-Bayern-like it was scary. Yes, Madrid are a fantastic counter-attacking team and 'BBC' can do that to any side. But the Bayern team that won the treble under Jupp Heynckes last season were not just 'any team'. On Tuesday, they looked so lacking in the verve, the hunger that embodied them last season. It is often said set-pieces are a question of will, and the opening two goals showed how little Bayern had of that, while the third, which saw only half-hearted attempts to halt Madrid's upfield charge, merely backed up that theory.
Guardiola should shoulder the blame for that. With the Bundesliga title wrapped up in record time, he declared the squad's focus should be on the cup competitions, and opted to chop and change his starting XI in order to keep players fresh. While that has been enough in the Pokal - at least to reach the final where Borussia Dortmund will now have renewed optimism of denying Bayern the double - it has seen a sheer cliff-like drop-off in form in the Bundesliga, and did not pay dividends on Tuesday when key players looked short of match sharpness. That was certainly true of Franck Ribery, who was a pale imitation of the man who underpinned last season's treble after completing just one of his last five Bundesliga outings. A coincidence? Most likely not. Squad rotation comes with the benefit of creating freshness and improving recovery, but also the unwanted side-effect of breaking players' rhythm. On Tuesday, Bayern's players were badly, and so uncharacteristically, out of sync.
Interestingly, Bayern had 64% possession against Madrid on Tuesday, according to UEFA.com, yet were on the receiving end of a 4-0 aggregate defeat. Last season, they had an average of less than 50% possession in their knockout games. Perhaps another question Guardiola needs to ponder is whether or not he has the right players to put into practice the style he preaches when his philosophy comes up against a team capable of countering it. When Plan A does not work, there seems to be no Plan B, or at least there is a huge reluctance to resort to it.
"We're at the highest level in Europe, such mistakes will be punished," said Guardiola, with reference to his team's doziness at set-pieces that all but put paid to their hopes of reaching the final within 20 minutes. He could, however, just as easily been talking about his own errors. Bayern will hope he will learn from them come next season's push to dominate Europe.
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- Pep Guardiola