Dilly ding, dilly dong! The Hump Day Dumpster Dive is back at again, flooding your eyeballs like so many condescending Leicester City essays. We may not be here every week, and not even always on Wednesday, but, like a Barcelona player dodging his taxes, we’re guaranteed to turn up eventually. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Let’s be honest about Guardiola
Pep Guardiola is the greatest working manager in the sport. If he were to retire to tomorrow, he would already have one of the most impressive resumes of any manager in history. The Barcelona team that he built is perhaps the best the game has ever seen, and the astonishing team that he crafted at Bayern Munich makes a mockery of the idea that he just happened to be lucky.
Of course, Guardiola did not win the Champions League with Bayern. But Guardiola’s failure to conquer Europe with the German giants should not negate the fact that he strengthened Bayern’s position among the continental elite all while significantly reshaping the team that won the trophy before his arrival.
All that said, he failed his mandate. With domestic dominance all but assured, he was explicitly hired to win the Champions League. For all the genuine tactical innovation that Guardiola has introduced during his time in Germany, and despite how much more tactically sophisticated his Bayern may be compared to his predecessor’s version, all but 3 of the starting XI from the 2013 final featured in this week’s semi-final. And for the third year in a row, Bayern was not just beaten, Guardiola was out-maneuvered.
Guardiola’s Bayern Munich was undeniably excellent and undeniably a disappointment. The standards expected of him were almost unprecedented and probably unfair, but let’s not pretend that he didn’t fail to meet them.
“Put some respeck on my name.” – Atlético Madrid
Atlético Madrid is on its way to its second Champions League final in three years, having had to knock out the two most heralded teams in the competition on the way there. In some quarters, Atleti’s progress is being labeled as a triumph of the underdog, presumably because Los Rojiblancos lack the star power of the teams that they vanquished along the way. But to credit Atlético’s success to scrappiness and desire does a disservice to just how impressive an outfit it is.
If you can name a better center back on the planet than Diego Godín in the last three years, well … you’d be wrong. Koke is without a doubt one of the best midfielders in Europe, and Antoine Griezmann is probably the best attacker in La Liga not named Messi or Ronaldo.
Simeone’s Atlético is no ragtag group of misfits living out some fairytale. They possess individual ability in spades, they have the most impressive defensive unit that Spanish soccer has seen in at least a generation, and the fact that they have been able to maintain this amazing form over three years means that they are no flash in the pan.
Diego Simeone may be most notable for being a raving lunatic on the sidelines, but sheer force of will alone does not get you to within a couple of wins of a league and European double. He is tactically astute, clearly able to extract the maximum from his players, and has developed a clear and formidable playing philosophy. Atlético may not have the spending power or the sex appeal of its European rivals, but it is eating at the big boys’ table now, and it’s about time we acknowledged it as such.
Team-building is overrated
In the other Champions League semi final, two teams made it to the final four without either having anything resembling a cohesive team-building strategy. Manchester City went out with a whimper that was befitting of its season and, to an extent, Manuel Pellegrini’s entire time at the helm.
Pellegrini has been a lame duck manager ever since Pep Guardiola’s was named as his replacement in March. City suffered a dip in form once Pellegrini’s authority was officially undermined, but in truth, the Blues have been rubbish all season. Guardiola’s eventual hiring was the worst kept secret in soccer, and, in essence, Pellegrini was nothing more than a three-year placeholder, despite winning a league title and a couple of Check Cashing Store Cups.
Despite the fact that the City players have not given so much as a fraction of a shit for most of this season, they came within a goal of making it to the Champions League final. City had been able to up its level of play for European competition until Wednesday at the Bernabeu, when they all seemed to shrug under the weight of the whole futile situation in which they found themselves. The manager is a goner, most of the squad, bar a handful, will undoubtedly be binned by his replacement, and the Atlético buzzsaw awaits in the final, so why bother?
City will blow it up and start over this summer, and Blues fans will hope that with Guardiola in charge, the recruitment strategy will be clearer than the one that landed them with the likes of Wilfried Bony and Jesús Navas.
Real Madrid’s approach to team-building under Florentino Pérez can best be described as noticing shiny, expensive things and saying “fuck it, why not?” Anyone who has made ill-advised online purchases after a night of heavy drinking can probably relate. Buying James Rodríguez without having a place for him in the team, or buying Danilo for whatever reason, is the megalomaniac football club president version of ordering an $800 deluxe waffle maker at four in the morning after a few too many whiskey-sodas. Still, Los Merengues have a chance at winning their second European Cup in three years. They might be an expensively assembled mismatched box of jigsaw puzzle pieces, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t win the damn thing.