How Guardiola inspired Bayern Munich before the Super Cup shoot-out against Chelsea
Prague, 30 August 2013.
It’s a feverish, tense, agonising final. Bayern equalise 51 seconds after the 120 minutes have been played. The Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson has added one minute for stoppages and there are nine seconds to go before Pep Guardiola’s team lose their second final in a month when a player who only three days previously was booked in for surgery scores for Bayern.
Once again, they’re going head-to-head with Chelsea in a penalty shoot-out, and everyone’s thoughts turn to the Allianz Arena one year earlier. That day the English team beat Bayern in the Champions League final, in a penalty shoot-out. This could be payback time but, given the option, Guardiola wouldn’t have wished for penalties. In the previous four weeks the men from Munich have scored only three of the five penalties they have taken.
On the way back from Freiburg, Guardiola realises that Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss the European Super Cup. His ankle is terribly swollen and they’re going to have to postpone Javi Martínez’s groin surgery. Thiago Alcantera had surgery the day before and the combination of injuries and the fact that Mario Götze has had very little training means that Pep will be forced to put Thomas Müller in the centre of the field as an attacking midfielder again. Given the results of this experiment so far, he had promised himself never to repeat this strategy, but there is nobody else he can use. He decides that Toni Kroos will be the organising midfielder, with the captain Philipp Lahm on hand to protect him as a No.8.
Pep draws up his final line-up with great reluctance. Having Kroos as pivote is a real problem, particularly against Mourinho, the expert in making his teams get in behind a pivote via speedy counter-attacks. Bayern’s line-up reads like this: Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Kroos, Lahm, Müller; Robben, Mandžukić and Ribéry.
This final will be the 16th time Guardiola and Mourinho have met and the balance of victories up till now is in Pep’s favour. He has won seven of the games against Mourinho’s three, with five draws. They know each other inside out. When Guardiola was captain at Barça, Mourinho was assistant coach. They shared a dressing-room, training sessions, knowledge and confidences. Years later they would fight it out in unforgettable tactical battles. There are no secrets between these two men. Mourinho knows that Pep wants his team to get the ball and come out attacking. Guardiola knows that Mourinho will start with his team in banks of defence, just waiting to pounce on a lost or loose ball and inflict deadly damage.
In this latest tussle between a team that likes to dominate the ball and one that wants to control the space, Chelsea come out on top. All it takes is a threat in the shape of Fernando Torres for Kroos to lose his position. Then Eden Hazard gets away from Rafinha and Bayern’s defensive organisation crumbles. Chelsea attack aggressively and score the first goal while the Munich defenders look on passively.
Thirty minutes into the match something happens that will affect Bayern’s entire season. Kroos continues to suffer every time Chelsea play the ball behind him, because turning quickly and then defending isn’t his greatest attribute. The assistant coach Domènec Torrent turns to Pep and says: ‘Why don’t we try Lahm as a pivote?’
Guardiola hesitates for the time it takes him to take a sip of water, then he leaps to his feet and, almost running on to the pitch, shouts at Kroos: “Toni! You, No.8. You, No.8 and Philipp, No.6!” This moment, switching the two, marks the start of Philipp Lahm’s metamorphosis into a midfielder.
Lahm started playing for Bayern aged 11, having come from FT Gern, and during his time in the youth categories trained under Hermann Gerland, who was assistant coach under Jupp Heynckes and stayed on to work for Guardiola. He had used Lahm in a variety of positions: from right-back to winger and even occasionally in midfield, where he was coached by Roman Grill, who is now his agent. When Ottmar Hitzfeld promoted Lahm into the first team at 19, the full-back positions were filled by the likes of Willy Sagnol and Bixente Lizarazu, so Gerland took it upon himself to persuade Felix Magath, then Stuttgart’s coach, to take Lahm on loan. Once there, he shone at left-back. Ten years later, Guardiola started to use him as a midfielder and now, in the middle of the European Super Cup final, while losing, puts him into the intricate position of pivote – the linchpin of the team.
Months later, towards the end of November, Guardiola will recall this moment: “It was Domè’s suggestion that made all the difference. If we win something this season, that will be the reason. I’m completely serious. If we win anything this season it will be thanks to that decision to move Lahm. All the other pieces fell into place the minute we put him in central midfield.”
Very slowly, Bayern begin to dominate. Pep not only puts Lahm in midfield, but moves Rafinha higher up the pitch and the team starts to attack using a 3-3-1-3 formation. Rafinha helps tighten things up in midfield, aiding Lahm, which frees Kroos to play creatively and Müller to play off the strikers. After half-time Ribéry scores with a fierce shot – a chance created by Kroos’s excellent build-up work.
A euphoric Ribéry runs straight to his coach to celebrate. Guardiola grabs him by the neck and the two bump heads. Ribéry raises his left fist as if dedicating his second goal in six days to his boss. Having been voted the best European player of 2013, he was in Monaco the previous night and unable to train with the team. Pep insisted that he be there to receive his well-deserved award. He has set himself the task of convincing Ribéry that he has huge potential as a goal-scorer and the player is responding magnificently.
After the equaliser Bayern control the rhythm of the match. Guardiola decides that a few more adjustments might just win them the game. The day before, he and Javi Martínez had decided that the player should have an anti-inflammatory injection so that he would be fit to play. 10 minutes after the break, Pep takes Rafinha off and brings on Martínez in an attempt to stretch the game – more attacking depth. He hopes Javi can change things by getting up and down the middle. At first Bayern suffer because, with Lahm giving over the pivote position to Javi, the German must do a double-shift at right-back and on the right of midfield. And the manager makes another change – Götze for Müller. But Chelsea go up a gear, making three good chances. Neuer needs to excel and Chelsea hit the bar.
Kroos and Ribéry both have scoring chances but what scars the closing moments is Ramires’s violent foul on Götze, which sees him sent off with five minutes of normal time left.
Götze is left with a serious ankle injury and will end up in plaster. In the break before extra-time Guardiola tells his players he wants aggression, particularly when they are defending. He doesn’t want Chelsea getting another goal and wants to see his men maintaining the pressure.
The complete opposite happens. Ninety seconds into extra time David Luiz frees the fabulous Eden Hazard who is wide on the left. He runs at the penalty area, easily passing Lahm and then Boateng, who barely tries to tackle, meekly allowing him past. He shoots and Neuer fumbles badly. With 10 men, Mourinho’s team are back in front and the clock is in their favour.
The Bayern supporters react with greater speed than the players themselves and their impassioned chanting echoes around the stadium. They are losing with just a few minutes to go but the fans of the European champions are holding out for the equaliser. They unfurl their flags, roar their lungs out and spur their players on to an epic comeback. Inspired by the fervour and excitement in the stands, Guardiola’s men produce an avalanche of shots on Petr Čech’s goal. Kroos is back at pivote, Lahm is running the whole of the right touchline. Javi Martínez is alternating between second striker and centre-forward. Time and again Bayern make scoring chances, time and again they are thwarted by the formidable Czech goalkeeper. Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandžukić and Javi all fail to score. Shaqiri misses for a second time, as do Götze and Ribéry and then, at the end of 120 minutes of play, Mandžukić fails to hit the mark once again. Bayern have had 38 shots, have taken 19 corners and hit three times as many accurate passes as Chelsea but, with 60 seconds left, they are losing the final.
German teams have a reputation for fighting until the last second. They will only accept defeat once they’re in the shower. And in this final Pep’s men more than live up to this reputation. With nine seconds left, Alaba crosses, Mandžukić lays it off, the ball bounces off Dante and drops to the left leg of the injured Javi Martínez – who scores. The combined efforts of an Austrian, a Croatian, a Brazilian and a Spaniard have the German supporters leaping to their feet in an explosion of joy that thunders across the Prague night.
Mourinho turns to Guardiola’s bench and clasps his hands in a gesture that says, “Pure dumb luck!” And he’s right. There are four principal elements in football: the ball, space, time and luck. Of these, Chelsea have certainly been the master of space, but Pep’s team have had the ball, the right timing and, at last, luck has intervened on their behalf. Of course, there’s still the penalty shoot-out.
In the middle of all the euphoria Pep steps up to the plate, emotional but icily calm. He calls his people together in one big huddle. Everyone is there: doctors, physios, assistant coaches, players, substitutes and even the injured men, like Schweinsteiger. This is Pep at his brilliant best. The guy who rises to the big occasions and dazzles his men.
Relaxed and smiling, he pays no heed to the thousands of frenzied supporters around them. Apparently unaffected by the tension, he issues no battle cry, opting instead for an anecdote. About water polo. “Lads, I don’t know how to take penalties myself,” he said. “I’ve never taken one in my life. But here’s the best penalty taker in the whole world.”
And he points to a figure half hidden, right at the back of the huddle. “I’m talking about Manel [Estiarte]. He was the best water polo player in the world. He took penalties better than anyone. Hundreds of them. Water polo is like football. Only four out of every five penalty kicks hit the target, but Manel put them all away! He is the world expert on penalties.”
Pep hasn’t just managed to get the player’s attention. He has completely changed the expressions on their faces. They had been waiting for motivational oratory, an adrenalin boost. What they receive, standing here in the midst of the clamouring, heaving mass of humanity that rocks the stadium, is a simple tale.
Van Buyten and Starke stand just behind Pep in their tracksuits, hugging each other; Doctor Müller-Wohlfart is beside them. Kroos, Lahm and Ribéry are right at the front. Alaba is leaning his elbow on Müller, also wearing a tracksuit, like Robben. Then there’s a second circle: Javi Martínez, Shaqiri, Dante, Boateng and Mandžukić; the assistant coaches, Domènec Torrent and Hermann Gerland; Kirchhoff, the substitute; the physio Gianni Bianchi; the fitness coaches Lorenzo Buenaventura and Andreas Kornmayer; Götze; Claudio Pizarro; Rafinha and Contento. Matthias Sammer and Bastian Schweinsteiger are slightly separated from the main group and Manuel Neuer isn’t here. He’s off getting Toni Tapalović’s advice about the Chelsea penalty takers. Estiarte, too, has stepped back a few metres.
The players are smiling. Silent but relaxed. They’re enjoying the tone of this team talk. “I’ve learned two things from Manel and his penalties, so listen up. These are the only two things you need to do now. Firstly, make up your mind immediately as to where you’re going to put the ball and stick with that decision. I’ll say it again. Decide now, and don’t change your mind no matter what happens. Secondly, keep telling yourselves that you’re going to score. Repeat it a thousand times and don’t stop until after you’ve taken the penalty. Don’t worry and don’t change your minds.”
“What a team talk. Incredible!” Matthias Sammer says later.
But Pep hasn’t finished. He gives them his advice and then says, “Lads, there’s no list. You can choose whether or not to take one. You choose. You’re all going to score anyway, so you decide who’s taking them. Who’s up for it?”
Alaba is the first to step forward, Kroos lifts his left hand next, followed quickly by Lahm. Pep gives his captain one of his little taps on the cheek. Next, Ribéry adds his name to the list and the coach slaps him encouragingly on the chest. It’s Shaqiri’s turn after that and he’s rewarded with “Bravo, Shaq!” The players have come up with the list themselves, but what about the order they’ll take them in?
“You sort that out. Take them in any order you want. Whatever you’re comfortable with. It doesn’t matter anyway, because they’re all going in.”
They decide to take them in the same order they volunteered. The referee indicates that it’s time and they all turn away. Pep grabs Ribéry and Lahm, stopping the whole group in their tracks.
“Just one last thing. Don’t forget. You’ve decided where you’re putting the ball. Go and do it. And from now until you shoot keep telling yourself, ‘It’s going in’. With every step you take, say it, ‘Goal, goal, goal…’”
Of the seven players who had practised on Monday scoring 42 out of 42, only Kroos and Shaqiri take penalties. Müller and Robben have both been substituted. Pizarro started on the substitutes’ bench and of course Schweinsteiger is injured. Of the players who had not taken part in the practice session, Alaba, Lahm and Ribéry have been happy to volunteer. All five score. Neuer saves Chelsea’s fifth penalty, taken by Romelu Lukaku, and Bayern have won the title that has so far eluded them. Pep has his first trophy with Bayern and his third European Super Cup.
Voted man of the match, Franck Ribéry dedicates the honour to his boss. “I know how much this means to him, his first title. I also know about his old rivalry with Mourinho.” The Portuguese coach has left the pitch without congratulating Guardiola, in contrast to the obvious warmth between the two teams.
An hour later, in a corner of the press room in Prague’s Eden Stadion, Guardiola and Estiarte chat to a couple of Catalan journalists, Isaac Lluch, of Ara and Ramon Besa of El País. Pep is absolutely radiant. His eyes are shining with happiness, but above all there is a sense of enormous relief. “The team needed this win. If we hadn’t won, I don’t know how we would have moved forward.”
This is an edited extract from Marti Perarnau’s book Pep Confidential, published by BackPage Press.