Pep Guardiola facing a potentially trecherous road at Bayern Munich

5 Comments

When Pep Guardiola takes over Bayern Munich this summer, he’ll be inheriting a Ferrari of a football squad. And while managing what is arguably the world’s best team is an honor that most managers can only dream of, the road ahead will be anything but easy for the Spaniard.

One of the biggest issues Guardiola will confront is what to do about Bayern’s style of play. Naturally, most would reply: Nothing. After all, the idea of tinkering with a squad that is but two matches away from a fantastic treble seems audacious.

While possessing the talent capable of playing in a number of styles, Bayern typically favor a possession-based approach that infuses a high intensity press in both defense and counter-attacks. Their full-backs stay true to their primary job of defending yet love to burst forward into the attack. The midfield is highly skilled yet ensures the back four is supported with cover before pressing forward and creatively interweaving themselves into attack. It’s a conservative yet brave style that emphasizes awareness while allowing players to express themselves.

Although it’s hardly a new style for the Bavarian giant (it has carried them to the Champions League semi-finals in three of the past four years), it is only now being recognized as the most dominant style in Europe. For the previous five years (or arguably more), the stylistic gold standard was the one that Guardiola brought to prominence at Barcelona, the famed tiki-taka.

In tiki-taka, possession is everything. It is death by a thousand cuts, a game requiring triangles inside of triangles and pass completion rates of over 90 per cent. When performed correctly, it is breathtaking and virtually unstoppable. But is Guardiola so attached to this style that he’s willing to undue Bayern’s current method of football?

Judging the Spaniards character, most likely no. At least not right away. To come into his new club and risk the wrath of the owners, players and fans by introducing a different style – and one that was born in bred in Spain – would reek of arrogance. But over time it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a more calculating approach is infused into Munich’s play.

A second issue Guardiola faces at Bayern concerns personnel decisions. Will Pep seek to rebuild the squad that already sits upon football’s Iron Throne?

As of now that answer seems to be yes. Last week Guardiola made what was effectively his first major signing when Bayern activated the €37m release clause of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze. The coup represented the second-highest transfer fee in Bundesliga history and earned Munich an attacking midfielder who is one of the most gifted players of his generation. Some even claim Gotze represents Guardiola’s new Lionel Messi, more fodder for the argument that Guardiola could be set to install a system that replicates tiki-taka.

One player who appears set to move on is Arjen Robben, who Guardiola has reportedly made available for transfer this summer. It’s believed that Pep has not been impressed by the winger’s one dimensional attacking play, where he starts on the right before cutting in and shooting with his left. In fairness, ridding Bayern of Robben seems like an obvious decision as doing so removes a potentially cancerous ego from the dressing room.

But will others follow?

Rumors of Bayern’s desire to bring a striker into the fold are rampant – with Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao being the most widely mentioned – and it is believed that Mario Gomez may be the fall-guy. After a fantastic 2011-12 Bundesliga season saw him haul 26 goals in 33 matches, this season has seen the German behemoth score only 10 times after falling behind Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic (15 goals, 22 league appearances) in the pecking order.

What other signings might Guardiola make? It wouldn’t be a shock if he discarded Daniel van Buyten or Holger Badstuber to bring in a new center-back to provide competition to Dante and Jerome Boateng. With a reported war chest of £240m at his disposal, anything is possible.

But despite the envious position he is poised to assume, the decisions won’t come easy for Pep as he looks to navigate the potentially treacherous new roads at Bayern Munich.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.