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Saturday 18 August 2018

PEP HAS BAYERN PROJECT IN HAND

Flexible Guardiola will find winning balance

When I saw Pep Guardiola bouncing around his technical area in the Allianz Arena in midweek, it struck me very forcibly how much pressure he must be under this season.

Normally calm and unflappable, Guardiola was a study in perpetual motion throughout the game against Manchester City. He lived every tackle, every shot and seemed to be trying to play the game for his players.

That's a sign of enormous pressure but for those of you out there who have a lot of time for the man who played a very big part in shaping the way football is played at the highest level nowadays, there is no need to be alarmed. He hasn't lost his touch.

If anything, I think he is showing even more clear signs of the kind of manager he can be. Remember, Pep Guardiola is still a very young man to have achieved so much.

In that context, it didn't really matter which club he chose to take the next step with after Barcelona. It was always going to be an enormous gamble for him and for the club.

He had his pick. Both Manchester clubs wanted him. Chelsea wanted him. In fact, anyone capable of meeting his salary wanted him and the gamble for all of them was whether the success he had at Barcelona was about him or the remarkable squad of players he worked with.

It could be argued that Guardiola was just a cog in a bigger machine. It might have been the case that he was so embedded in Barcelona that he was just another servant for the club's grand vision.

After all, this was a very special group of players indeed and in most cases, men he grew up with and played with.

But that would do him a great injustice. From what I see now at Bayern Munich compared to what I saw last season, Guardiola is very much on the right track and showing the signs that he has his own vision of the game which is both adaptable and effective.

The best managers take stock of what they find when they arrive at the club and In Guardiola's case at Barcelona, he already knew what was there because he was an insider.

It takes as much skill to manage a group of great players as it does pluggers but it helps an awful lot when you know the personalities almost as well as you know your family.

That's a unique situation which Guardiola will never be able to repeat, so his first task when he decided to throw in his lot with Bayern Munich was to assess his squad, adapt to what was available and, when possible, add the right new players of the right quality.

He was never going to simply repeat what he did at the Nou Camp and Bayern Munich looked far less assured under Guardiola than they were just a season before when Jupp Heynckes won everything with a team which looked good enough to dominate for some time.

By the end of last season, Guardiola was being criticised by Franz Beckenbaeur, who claimed that Bayern were boring and would soon be "passing the ball on the goal line" which is some pretty heavyweight criticism, it must be said, from a club and national legend who should have known better.

DIFFERENT

But against Manchester City, I saw a different team from last season and different from Heynckes' very successful model. I think Guardiola is adapting and learning fast on his feet.

This is a powerful unit, full of players comfortable on the ball and willing to be patient but with a huge attacking threat. But for some great saves from Joe Hart, Bayern Munich could have won that game comfortably.

At times and much like Manchester City, they overpassed when more directness was needed but the balance will come and when it does, Bayern Munich will be a very formidable team. Remember, Guardiola was missing a half dozen top players.

I'm looking forward to watching the Guardiola project unfold over the coming Champions League season which, it has to be said, has not started very well for the Premier League representatives.

I was surprised by Chelsea but not at the fact that Jose Mourinho wrapped Diego Costa in cotton wool and used Didier Drogba against Schalke 04.

Costa is a precious jewel and he can win Mourinho the Premier League title, which I suspect would make Roman Abramovich more than happy.

Manchester City looked under-cooked and Manuel Pellegrini appears to have a job on his hands to keep his highly-paid stars motivated.

Liverpool got out of jail and Arsenal didn't but I would never read too much into the first series of games.

English clubs have struggled before in the early rounds but still qualified for the knock-out stages and I expect the same will happen this time around.

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