Munich - The eyes of the football world will be on Munich this coming Monday as Josep "Pep" Guardiola officially takes up the reins as new head coach of FC Bayern Munich. On Wednesday (26 June), the players will have their first training session under the former FC Barcelona supremo and hopes are high that he can build longer-term on the dizzying, treble-winning success of 2012/13.
Room for improvement?
In his relatively short coaching career to date, Guardiola has earned the reputation of being both a highly methodical worker and a football visionary. One of his former charges at Barcelona, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, went so far as to describe him as a "philosopher". Over the course of his four seasons at the helm of the Catalan club, Guardiola accumulated an incredible 14 titles with a team widely accepted to be setting the gold standard worldwide with their brilliant short-passing game. In 2009, at 38, he became the youngest coach ever to win the UEFA Champions League.
Over the course of the season just ended, FC Bayern attained a similar level of dominance both at home and abroad. The first German club ever to win the league, cup and Champions League in a single season, they did so with an impressive, swashbuckling brand of football enjoyed by the vast majority of neutrals as well as their own fans. Outgoing head coach Jupp Heynckes remarked that he was handing over the "best team in the world" to his successor. So how, precisely, can Guardiola improve it further?
At Barca, he refined the team's oft-cited tiki-taka system to an unparalleled degree. At their best, the Blaugrana were literally untouchable, with even the strongest opposition barely getting a sight of the ball. Such could be their dominance that the style began to earn criticism in some quarters for its ostensible dullness. On a purely pragmatic level, however, it remains highly debatable whether tiki-taka is the right way ahead for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Co., whose now-ingrained style has been optimally developed to meet the more robust demands of the German game.
More compact at the back...
That said, certain elements of the Barcelona concept could undoubtedly be integrated into Bayern's play to good effect. Guardiola's nominal starting formation of choice was 4-3-3, with a single recognised holding midfielder. At times, he dispensed altogether with the services of an out-and-out forward in the traditional sense. Bayern, by contrast, have favoured a 4-2-3-1 line-up in recent seasons, with two deep-lying midfielders covering the defence and an attacking game developed down the flanks and orientated around a goal-getting centre forward.
Highly mobile pass masters such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi have of course been pivotal to Barcelona's success of recent years and in Mario Götze, Bayern have added to their ranks a player cut from very much the same cloth. With the consensus being that the signing of Germany's No1 Wunderkind from domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund was in accordance with Guardiola's wishes, the new coach may well be looking to further increase the team's already impressive average share of possession.
...more options up front
In Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez, however, he has players who offer him different kinds of options up front, above all in terms of their aerial prowess. Defensively, too, as the simple logic of numbers dictates, Bayern are more solidly set up than the side he twice led to Champions League glory in such style.
At the moment, the balance of power in European football has clearly shifted from the Catalan capital to its Bavarian counterpart. The challenge for Guardiola is to meld the best of the Barcelona philosophy he himself is steeped in, both as a player and coach, with the all-conquering material at his disposal in Munich. And as to how FC Bayern could attain even greater heights - for starters, no team have ever made a successful defence of their Champions League title...