When their sides meet in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final, the Manchester City manager will be facing the Argentine for the first time since 2016. For some, determining whether Pep Guardiola’s stint at Bayern Munich was a success or failure can be reduced to a 90-minute period in May 2016.
He dominated German football for three years, winning three Bundesliga crowns and two DFB-Pokals with his Bayern Munich side winning the Bundesliga title sooner than any other team in history, setting the record for the longest winning streak in the league, and tying for the most victories.
Instead, it was when Diego Simeone’s tenacious Atletico Madrid who knocked them out of the Champions League semi-finals, denying Guardiola his final chance at European success with Bayern Munich.
Bayern’s domestic supremacy is so strong – the team is on track to win its 10th title in a row – that the success of their coaches is often defined only by their achievements on the continent.
When Jupp Heynckes won the treble in his final season in command before being replaced by Guardiola, he gave the Catalan not only the best team in Europe but also an achievement that would be nearly impossible to match.Guardiola failed to even come close to matching that in his three seasons in Bavaria.
He blamed himself for getting his tactics completely wrong in Bayern’s 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the 2014 semi-finals, before injuries and a magnificent Barcelona easily defeated Bayern at the same level the following year.
But the defeat to Atletico Madrid in 2016 was particularly vexing since his tactics were flawless, yet his team was denied a place in the final.
Guardiola has a reputation for making seemingly pointless tactical changes in big games, a trait that has hampered his quest for a first European title with Manchester City, even if he joked about “”always overthinking and making stupid changes”” ahead of Tuesday’s quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.
There was the final against Chelsea last season when he started without a holding midfielder; the shock loss to Lyon the year before, when he played with a makeshift back-three; and the loss to Liverpool in 2018, when he tried to cram an extra man into midfield.
After a 1-0 first-leg loss, Bayern controlled and produced a plethora of chances against Atletico Madrid at the Allianz Arena, only to be eliminated from the tournament on the away goals rule after a 2-1 triumph.
Bayern had 25 shots (12 on target), nearly 70% possession, 668 passes compared to 212 for Atletico, and an expected goal (xG) of 4.24 compared to 1.4 for their opponents, but it was not enough.
“”We overpowered our opponents for 150 minutes,”” a dejected captain Philipp Lahm said after a game that left the team in ruins.
Simeone’s ultimate plan held no great secrets. Atletico pressed relentlessly, defended valiantly, leaned on goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s brilliance – who saved a Thomas Muller penalty in Munich – and when their big chance came, Antoine Griezmann took it on the break.
“”I was completely enamoured with this game because my squad did so well as well,”” she stated “”Simeone commented after the game. “”We were able to handle the pressure and score – which was quite difficult. What we accomplished is incredible.
“”We strive to play with our own personalities, the style that we are able and allowed to play, and the players that we have.””
Six years later, the two managers meet for the first time, yet Simeone’s attitude hasn’t changed much.
While some of his inspiring personalities have left the club, such as Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, and Saul Niguez, and Oblak has lost his best form, the team’s determination and belief remain.
Their previous round match versus United in Manchester was a typical cut-and-run European victory, with Renan Lodi’s counterattack header and a strong defensive performance enough to destroy United’s aspirations at Old Trafford.The city will provide a step up in the quality of opponents, but Simeone’s players have no doubts that his tactics will be questioned.
“”Doubting Cholo Simeone is insane,”” Rodrigo De Paul, a midfielder, told GOAL. “”He is one of the world’s best coaches.””
“”He has a very good understanding of the situation. It’s everyone’s business when things don’t go well, and it’s also everyone’s business when things go well.
“”We all know that we have responsibilities, in good times and bad.”” We know Simeone is the team’s leader, the one in charge of the ship, and we’re all aboard.”” We have a lot of faith in what he says, especially because of the manner Cholo conveys his message.””
Guardiola will have met with his coaches to devise a strategy and identify a weak spot in the Atletico defence, but there won’t be many in a team that has only conceded four goals in its last nine games.
However, the ex-Barcelona manager denied claims that the encounter will be a collision of styles, with Guardiola’s offensive football clashing with Simeone’s ‘anti-football.’
“I’m not going to talk about this dumb debate for a second,” the mayor remarked. “Everyone strives to win the game, and if they succeed, they are correct; if we succeed, we are correct.”
“After watching Atletico, there is a misunderstanding regarding his (Simeone’s) style of play. It’s more obnoxious than most people think. He doesn’t want to take a chance in the build-up, but once they get to the final third, they have talent.”
Despite the fact that City is certain to dominate possession in both legs of the tie, there is every reason to believe Guardiola will have a difficult time finding a way through without a traditional striker.
Simeone tainted Pep’s reputation at Bayern, and now he has a chance to do it again at City.