‘Super’ Guardiola marks 100th day at Bayern
BERLIN - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS PhotoThe plaudits flowed for Pep Guardiola as Tuesday marked his 100th day as Bayern Munich coach, but his team is yet to rediscover the domination of last season's treble-winning campaign.
Guardiola faces arguably the toughest test of his brief reign when the holders face Manchester City away in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Having been unveiled as Bayern boss on June 24, Guardiola has led European champions Bayern to their UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea on penalties and have dropped just two points in seven league games so far.
"His ideas are unbelievable, he is a coach who knows exactly how the players feel and think," enthused Bayern's Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Likewise, Bayern president Uli Hoeness, not one to gladly suffer fools or egotistical coaches, was just as enthusiastic.
"It's a huge amount of fun to work with him. He is a totally open person and wears his heart on his sleeve," said Hoeness.
"I am very happy that we have him here.
"During the meetings with him, you always feel that you're progressing in life." Guardiola has poured on the charm by speaking passable German from his first day in office and punned the expression "super, super, super" to emphasis a particular positive point in interviews.
But having insisted at his initial press conference that he would neither make significant early changes nor recruit players from his former club Barcelona, Guardiola soon did the exact opposite.
With Guardiola's brother Pere as his agent, Spain Under-21 captain Thiago Alcantara moved from Barcelona to Bavaria while the treble-winning 4-2-3-1 system was abandoned for a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Guardiola's competitive debut resulted in a 4-2 defeat at arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund for the German Super Cup at the end of July.
Bayern then avenged their 2012 Champions League final defeat at home to Chelsea by beating the Blues in Prague in August for the UEFA Super Cup, but the Germans twice came from behind, including a 121st-minute equaliser from Javi Martinez.
Part of the problem in Prague -- as it has been for most of the season -- has been Guardiola's insistence on a single defensive midfielder playing in front of the back-four.
Last season, Schweinsteiger and Martinez formed a rock-solid midfield pairing, often shutting down opposition attacks before they even troubled the defence, as Bayern conceded 18 league goals all season.
With both Martinez and Schweinsteiger having spent the opening weeks of the season recovering from minor operations, Guardiola has deployed captain Philipp Lahm as a single defensive midfielder.
It has meant more space for the opposition to attack in front of the Bayern back-four and without that composure, Bayern's attacks have on occasion lacked sparkle, despite averaging 70 percent possession.
Their 3-0 win at home to Russian champions CSKA Moscow and the 4-0 league win at Schalke in mid-September were the only times Bayern stamped their authority on a game.
As Guardiola himself acknowledges, his main problem is "that people are no longer satisfied with a 2-0 win" and that "you always have to play spectacular football and sweep away the opposition".
Guardiola's achievement of dropping only two league points in seven league matches pales next to last season's achievement of winning all eight opening games under predecessor Jupp Heynckes.
Traditionally, Bayern's loudest critics come predominantly from within.
Last month, director of sport Matthias Sammer stirred the waters by accusing the team of "lethargic football" and "going through the motions" before they responded by seeing off Moscow and Schalke. Guardiola insisted he has no problem with Sammer's criticism of his team while this week Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic relaunched his war-of-words by calling the Spaniard a "coward" who has "no balls".
But regardless of such comments, the Bavarians under Guardiola remain the team to beat both in Germany and on the European stage.
Having broken or equalled 25 Bundesliga records last season, Bayern are just four short of the league record of 36 games without defeat, set by Hamburg in the 1980s, and they last lost in the league on October 28 last year.