The first season Pep Guardiola managed FC Barcelona in 2008-09, his side became the first Spanish squad to accomplish the continental treble. Currently in his first year at the helm of Bayern Munich, the Catalan native is on pace to accomplish the same feat. While he’s only halfway through his debut with Die Roten, an interesting debate has arisen about which Guardiola-led team is better.
We’ve broken down each team into four categories to decide which side is superior. At the beginning of the “match” between both of these sides, the score is nil-nil.
Guardiola’s Barca team ran a 4-3-3 formation. His interpretation of the system followed in the philosophy of his former manager, the icon Johan Cruyff. Crisp short passing, possession, and attacking were the main objective with two creative midfielders and a holding midfielder dictating the pace. In 2011 he stated,
“Since I took the job, our play has been marked by brave, attacking football. Sometimes we’ve been bold and, occasionally, I think we’ve played audaciously. It’s a philosophy of football. Win or lose I want us to show who we are and what kind of football we believe in. I want my team to go out and be themselves.”
This mentality hurt the team occasionally when teams “parked the bus” by playing their whole squad deep and conceding possession for counter-attacking chances. At Bayern, Guardiola has implemented the 4-1-4-1 formation. Pundits questioned the switch but the setup gives his side more flexibility to see what the opposition decides to do and whether to swap to a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or even a 4-4-2 based on how the players read the pitch.
Phillip Lahm told Four Four Two Magazine
“Also, outwardly it appears as if we’ve changed our system, but if you look more closely we still have three central midfielders on the pitch. Whether there’s one No.6 [a primarily defensive holding midfielder] and two No.10s [offensive midfielders], or one No.6 and two No.8s [more creative holding midfielders] or maybe one No.8, one No.6 and one No.10 – there are three players in central midfield. To give you an example, last season Toni Kroos [a typical No.10] sometimes played in the No.6 position alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger. It’s open to debate whether or not you could have spoken of two No. 6 players in those moments. So each of the three players fills the position with his own identity and his characteristics. That is what counts.”
The versatility of the formation gives Bayern the advantage.
Winner: Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga team takes an early lead. Barca 0 – Bayern 1.
2. Goalkeeping and defense
In the 2008-09 La Liga season, Barcelona gave up 35 goals in 38 matches. Their backline consisted of Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, and Carles Puyol. Alves and Abidal were critical in helping build play and Alves was the most durable footballer for the side appearing in 54 matches, starting all but two. Goalkeeper Victor Valdés saw limited action his way due to the possession his team dominated and he won the Zamora Trophy, which is awarded by Spanish newspaper Marca to the goalie with the lowest goals-to-games ratio.
Bayern gave up a Bundesliga record low 18 goals in 34 matches last year and this year they’ve let in a very small number. Guardiola’s teams normally have trouble letting in goals on counter-attack and but Bayern’s backline featuring David Alaba, Jérôme Boateng, Dante, and Philipp Lahm have been strong and their fullbacks are versatile and influential on creating chances. Manuel Neuer has been superb and was awarded the 2013 International Federation of Football History & Statistics World’s Best Goalkeeper, something Valdes has never won.
Barca’s central defenders are better while Bayern’s fullbacks have the advantage. Neuer is currently the world’s best goalkeeper while Valdes couldn’t claim the same five years ago.
Winner: Bayern Munich. Barca 0 – Bayern 2.
The Bavarians have a deep and talented midfield with Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the middle of the pitch. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben are inverted wingers who do a great job of getting inside the box to either score or make a smart pass for a teammate to score. Their bench has Mario Götze, Javi Martínez, and Thiago whom all could start for most teams around the world.
Unfortunately for them, Barca had one of the best midfields the world has ever seen. Recently promoted Sergio Busquets rotated the holding midfield position with Seydou Keita and Yaya Touré while Andrés Iniesta and Xavi were the brains of the operation keeping the ball moving around the pitch and waiting for an opening on the defense to appear while they might the right play the majority of the time. Bayern has the depth but Barca had the quality.
Winner: Barcelona. Barca pull one back. Barca 1 – Bayern 2.
Barcelona possessed arguably the greatest three-man attack in the sports history with Thierry Henry on the left wing, Samuel Eto’o as the center forward, and Lionel Messi on the right wing. No more need for commentary here.
Winner: Barcelona: The Blaugrana grab a late equalizer. Barca 2 – Bayern 2.
Bayern Munich is on their way to join the conversations as one of the best sides in the sport’s history. The problem is that Guardiola’s Barca side is already there and had the unique blend of teamwork, unselfishness, technical ability, and a multitude of scoring options. Bayern would keep the match close but the combination of Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Henry, and Eto’o would be too much to bear for the Bavarians. The slight advantage goes to Barcelona in extra time.