Pep, Where Do You Go From a Treble?

Yesterday, Pep Guardiola was somewhere in the world scouring his contract with Bayern Munich for the release clause if they won everything. Expectations were high for the Spanish manager months ago when he agreed to become Bayern’s next gaffer but in the extremely likely possibility that Jupp Heynckes and his side come out victorious against Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal final, repeating a treble or at the very least a double is going to be the measuring stick for Pep.

After I got past Gus Johnson’s annoying, over-the-top, canned enthusiasm, I was able to sit down and watch a good game of football that showed all the finer points of the game and all the reasons that Bayern Munich is on the precipice of being the continent’s powerhouse. Wave after wave of yellow-clad attack crashed against Bayern’s goal in the early parts of the game and Manuel Neuer pulled off a few saves that would deem him a worthy man of the match choice.

If it weren’t for his opposite number, Roman Weidenfeller, making just as many spectacular saves including one with his face and Arjen Robben’s refusal to use his right foot, Bayern could have easily run away with this game.

Pep Guardiola may have thought about extending his sabbatical to avoid taking a side that is one win away from a treble.

Pep Guardiola will have the highest expectations of any manager in Europe when he takes over Bayern Munich, who are one win away from completing the treble on the season.

Fortunately, Robben was able to use his right foot to cross it to Mario Manzudkic for the opening score (I actually think he was trying to shoot) and got the ball in a place that he could shift it onto his left foot to score the game-winning goal.

It must be said that normally when I watch a game as a neutral fan of the game, I tend to lean towards the team that isn’t the media’s darling. Deep down, it is difficult for me to get behind a side that is being trumpeted for how they built their team rather than how good that team is. There’s been more than a few times when I’ve wanted to smash my TV during a Barcelona game because the commentators kept saying they “built their club the right way.”

It must also be said that I respect Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp for what they have done in the past handful of years but even they had to go out and buy a few key players to mix into their youth system stars.

The second half was a showcase of what happens when you take a club willing to splash the cash on the players they need and mix it with a world-class manager who knows how to use those players. Heynckes’ men spent the better part of the forty-five minutes putting their rivals to the sword. Dante’s moment of insanity in the penalty area was one of the few blotches on an otherwise spectacular performance by the Champions of Europe.

All that’s left now is to applaud the efforts of Borussia Dortmund. We know we all got up off our seats when Neven Subotic slid in to clear the ball off the line (and we all cursed at Robben a little for not sliding in himself to push it into the net). They performed valiantly but when the chips are done nothing beats experience. Three Champions League finals in four years is pretty experienced.

Winning the German Cup will cement this season’s Bayern Munich team as one of the best teams in recent memory, if not ever, and that’s the club that Guardiola will be taking over in due time. The man who showed a penchant for winning trophies at the club that he himself played at will have a much more difficult time keeping the Bayern board on his side after this season.

His first game in charge, the UEFA SuperCup, will give him his first opportunity to win silverware with the Bavarians and you can be assured that even if it is against Jose Mourinho and a hungry Chelsea side, Bayern is expecting to add that trophy to their cabinet as well as a few other from the next campaign.

Regardless of how many pieces of silverware Pep wins in Munich, we will all remember the night when Bayern climbed to the top of the European football mountain and planted their flag atop it. We can all be assured that their tie with Liverpool as the only two five-time winners of Europe’s most prestigious competition will not last too much longer and I hate to say that the English club won’t be winning its sixth anytime soon.

Advertisements

Goliath Needs David: The Premier League’s Brand of Entertainment

Yesterday, the Premier League came to a rather fitting close. Arsenal dispatched Newcastle despite Theo Walcott hitting the post on a shot that seemed harder to miss, setting up a few terse minutes for the Gunners and in doing so sealed their spot in the Champions League for the umpteenth straight year. And yes, they celebrated like it was 2004 all over again.

The fact that Arsene Wenger and his boys got to lift their pseudo-trophy once more is of little significance. What is important is that the Premier League hierarchy had been maintained for another season — that is, if we are to consider Liverpool’s position as one of the Big Four a thing of the past now ceded to Manchester City.

Laurent Koscielny's goal sealed Arsenal's place in the Champions League for next season -- nothing new here.

Laurent Koscielny’s goal sealed Arsenal’s place in the Champions League for next season — nothing new here.

If I were to make an extremely early prediction about the Prem’s next season, no one would call me crazy to assume that Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal would be the teams occupying the top four positions. Put them in whatever order you desire. Tottenham will likely finish fifth with Everton behind them. Liverpool will finish well out of Champions League contention and Brendan Rodgers will be sacked in favor of whoever the hot commodity is at the time.

It’s nothing new that the Premier League is an oligarchy of the rich, powerful clubs and with the financial restrictions coming into play soon, it’s going to persist for the foreseeable future.

New manager or not, United will never finish below third. Chelsea will have some bumps in the road, but as soon as they find a manager who can survive a season (coughJoseMourinhocough) they’ll be fine. City is building for the future at all costs and has the money and talent to keep themselves fighting for silverware in the meantime. Arsenal will always be happy with fourth place.

Therein lies the perceived problem with the Premier League. Take a trip to ESPN or any other sports site and check out the comments on most articles about the Premier League. In an effort to save you time, it’s mostly people whining about how boring and uncompetitive that league is. The uncompetitive quip is more than likely true, but the boring part… not so much.

The Bundesliga is currently touted as Europe’s most entertaining league because there are multiple teams that challenge for the competition’s top spots and in most seasons, there isn’t a run-away champion.

I’m going to tell you two things about that: One, German football has been and is still dominated by one team. Two, competitiveness has no correlation to entertainment.

Surely, I’m already being called a Premier League apologist but hear me out before you banish me to the realm of people who are ignorant to the world’s other leagues and their pluses over England’s league.

Because the Prem’s best talent is consolidated in a handful of teams, Goliaths, the entertainment comes from the other teams, Davids, beating them. Southampton thumping City 3-1? Painful for City supporters, entertaining for everyone else.

If you were to go back through the years, the most memorable games are probably either titanic struggles involving United, Arsenal or Liverpool or some upstart knocking off United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

A little club is going to fight harder against a big club than the big club is going to fight against the little one because the larger club is much more used to winning. For example, West Brom fighting for a 5-5 draw yesterday in Fergie’s last game. You are never going to see United and City score 10 goals in one game unless the score is 9-1.

In no way am I saying relegation six-pointers aren’t as memorable, I am only arguing that the battles between the haves and the have-nots are what makes people call the Premier League the world’s greatest show.

An ultra-competitive league is actually a negative. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to see the club they support struggle in every game of the season. I doubt Bayern Munich supporters stopped going to games because the Bavarians had the league wrapped up months ago.

However, from a neutral standpoint, competitiveness is what we want and that creates the fallacy that competitiveness breeds entertainment. The beauty of the modern world is that we can pick and choose the games that we want to watch.

But how many of us neutrals can say that we tuned in to watch Deportivo La Coruna play Getafe or Greuther Furth face off against Düsseldorf? Not many, I’m sure.

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Millions upon millions watch the Premier League every season then head to message boards to complain about how boring it is to watch United crowned champions every season. Believe me, I agree that it’s boring to watch United crowned champions season. I’d much rather see City crowned champions every season.

the amount of money the Prem is raking in from TV deals is astronomical when compared to the other leagues in Europe and it’s all because the same four teams win every season and the other sixteen try to pull off a big win against those four.

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Beginning of a New Golden Era for Bayern?

I’m aware that it may be jumping the gun to say that Bayern Munich will be at Wembley to play in this season’s Champions League final, but after the 4-0 shellacking they gave Barcelona yesterday, you have to believe that they’ll be making a return appearance to Europe’s biggest final. Couple that with the signing of one of the best young German stars, Mario Götze, and being linked with Robert Lewandowski today, both from their only title rival in Borussia Dortmund and we could be witnessing the birth of Europe’s newest juggernaut.

Jupp Heynckes has done an amazing job in his third stint at the club and has set Pep Guardiola up in a much better position than the one he inherited from Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona — if that’s even possible, as the Blaugrana  weren’t exactly starving for trophies when he got there.

Image

Mario Götze is set for a move to the Allianz Arena and will likely becoming a key piece of Europe’s new kings.

The amount on talent on Bayern Munich’s squad was clearly evident last night as they made use of their 37% possession with cutting attacks and superb finishing. You can argue that two of their goals shouldn’t have counted for a body check on Jordi Alba and a seemingly missed offside call but they could have easily gone on to score three or four more goals.

David Alaba is on his way to becoming one of the world’s elite fullbacks, Arjen Robben is a man reborn, Javi Martinez is proving that he was worth the trouble to sign him from Athletic Bilbao this past summer and those are just the players I want to tip off now. It doesn’t take a football pundit to know that they are stacked from top to Bayern Munich II.

The arrival of Mario Götze to the Allianz may be the straw that breaks the Bundesliga’s back. It’s the equivalent of Manchester City agreeing to sell Sergio Aguero to Manchester United and it carries the same connotations. Götze was the epitome of what Dortmund stands for. Joining the club at 9, he cut his teeth at the Westfalenstadion and now he’s moving up the big club (no disrespect to Dortmund).

The epic battle between Bayern and Dortmund that people were expecting when Dortmund capped their rise back to prominence with back-to-back Bundesliga titles has already been quashed by Die Roten’s dominating season, winning the league earlier than ever before and the loss of Götze and likely Lewandowski is going to set Dortmund back.

Surely, Bayern isn’t finished spending this summer. Uli Hoeneß‘s tax problems and Financial Fair Play won’t be able to stop this growing storm as long as they continue to reap the benefits of Bundesliga silverware and Champions League final appearances.

Possible Summer Targets for Manchester City Pt. 1

With the 2012-13 Premier League season closer to reaching its end, most teams are going to start taking a closer look at their squad. Manchester City, as they shouldn’t, have not conceded the title race to city rival Manchester United yet but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at possible transfer targets this summer.

It is likely City will receive a large influx of cash with players such as Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and even Carlos Tevez receiving their walking papers as well as the residual effects of selling Mario Balotelli to AC Milan in January. With that in mind, some of the big names being linked with the blue half of Manchester may not be so out-of-reach.

Miralem Pjanic and Erik Lamela

The Roma pair have been garnering a lot of attention with their play for the giallorossi in Serie A. Pjanic, who joined Roma from Lyon in 2011, has settled into a starting role at the Stadio Olimpico after beginning the season on the bench. The 22-year-old Bosnian international gained a reputation for being deadly from set-piece situations and having very good passing skills.

On the other hand, you have Erik Lamela. I think that Lamela, 20, could be one of the next great Argentinian players and what better way to indoctrinate him into that role than by playing him alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero. Lamela’s shooting, dribbling and speed make him an asset to any team. Just ask Roma how useful he has been this season, scoring 11 goals for them this season.

Rumor has it that City is preparing a double swoop for both Lamela and Pjanic, but as they continue to impress it will be tougher to get both of them in one deal. City may have to settle for one.

Paul Pogba

Image

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could become the perfect defensive partner for Yaya Toure at Manchester City.

The former Manchester United youth player has hit the ground running in Turin, making many highlight reels with his strikes from well outside the box. But don’t let his flashy goals fool you, Pogba is a defensive tank who can control the game in the middle of the park with well-timed challenges. Hell, just his presence might scare off a few smaller midfielders.

Pogba can fit perfectly into City’s formation next to Yaya Toure or Javi Garcia. With Pogba on the pitch, Toure can make those marauding runs he has become so famous for or if he replacing Toure then Garcia can focus on defending while Pogba gets forward.

City’s defensive midfield has been noticeably weaker without Nigel de Jong this season so if there was one buy they need to make then it is bringing Pogba to the Etihad.

Isco

Malaga is in a tough financial situation. The last time a Spanish club was in a tough financial position, Manchester City got David Silva from Valencia. Isco has all the trappings of the quintessential Spanish midfielder. He can pass, he can shoot and he can orchestrate the attack. Silva will always be City’s little Spanish magician but it doesn’t hurt for him to have an understudy.

With Nasri likely returning to France in the summer, bringing in Isco could finally give City the creative player opposite of Silva that strikes fear into opponents. The thought of Isco and Silva playing behind Aguero and a few of the other players on this list is frightening even from the perspective of a City supporter.

Gonzalo Higuain

We love our Argentine strikers at the Etithad, so much so that City is being linked with out-of-favor Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain. You don’t have to look far to see how good Higuain is. He’s a do it all player who has been gold for Los Blancos when he has gotten a look into the squad. However, Karim Benzema has displaced him in the starting XI and it may be time for Higuain to look elsewhere.

Image

A swoop for Gonzalo Higuain could be a stroke of genius for Roberto Mancini and form a formidable partnership with countrymen Sergio Aguero.

I think this would be a perfect deal for City as Higuain won’t carry the price tag of a Edison Cavani or Radamel Falcao but comes with all the quality of someone worth three times what he is. There’s only one player who has a better goal-per-game average at the Bernanbeu and Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t someone you mind coming in second to.

Robert Lewandoski

Robert Lewandoski is preparing to leave the Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund want Edin Dzeko who recently said he wants to go back to the Bundesliga. Sounds like a perfect deal to me, what about you?

The 24-year-old Polish international has been linked with a move to Manchester so much that it started to get old except that was before Manchester United decided to go break the bank on Robin van Persie. Lewandoski has a few more years left in him than van Persie and a few fewer trips to the physio’s table.

Lewandoski doesn’t provide the height that Dzeko has but he makes up for it in sheer scoring ability. In 33 games this season with Dortmund, Lewandoski has found the back of the net 23 times. How’s that for efficiency?

Will Hughes

City put in a few bids for Will Hughes in January but Derby County were reluctant to let the 17-year-old midfielder go to the Etihad. I think we’ll see City send a few more bids Derby’s way in the summer.

Image

Will Hughes could be one of England’s next big stars but the question is, what Premier League team is going to shell out the cash to get him first?

Hughes has received high praise from all corners as he has settled in quickly at Pride Park despite his age. English U-21 manager Stuart Pearce was impressed has been impressed with his ability to keep the ball and pick out passes.

He might not be able to break into City’s lineup at 17, but after what Matija Nastasic has done at the Etihad at only 19 I’d say what’s the harm in bringing him in sooner rather than later.

Stay tuned for part two where we’ll take a look at the usual suspects linked with a move to Manchester City as well as a few guys I think we should take a look at.