Pep Guardiola was slated for his decision to leave Thomas Muller on the bench in Bayern Munich’s 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Starting Bayern’s joint-top goalscorer in this season’s European competition never appeared a wise move, and so it proved as Guardiola’s side lost to Saul Niguez’s stunning solo goal.
There was only one question reporters were interested in asking the Munich boss afterwards: “why didn’t Muller start?”
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It was an eyebrow-raising decision given how competent the German forward is. He was the hero in the round-of-16 win against Juventus as his 91st-minute goal sent the tie into extra-time, from where Bayern went on to progress.
Yet at the Vicente Calderon last night, we had to wait until the 70th minute to see Muller in action.
As it turns out, Guardiola was making a tactical move.
“I wanted a left-footed left winger and a right-footed right winger, and an extra midfielder,” the tactician explained, per the Mirror.
What transpired was a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 formation that had Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa on the flanks and Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara in the middle.
Yet despite the introduction of Muller in the second half, Bayern were unable to break through Atletico’s highly-guarded door. The Spanish side defended expertly and will take a lead to the Allianz Arena.
Bayern must play better
Guardiola was happy to escape with a slim deficit but knows his team must up their tempo in next week’s return leg.
“I think 75 per cent of the game was good from us,” he reflected. “We had enough chances here against Atletico. Normally you do not get that many. We played well and had enough chances to score.
“I don’t know how many teams away in the Champions League would have as many chances as we did tonight. I’m very satisfied with that part of our performance.
“[But] we have to play at a different pace in the second leg. Their goal was brilliant, but it came from our mistake: we kept standing off him.
“I’m not happy with how we played [defensively]. If we let them run and win fouls it will be hard.
“In the return match we have to play very smart, we need patience."
Wretched away record
Last night’s result was Bayern’s fifth away defeat in their last 10 Champions League away games. They’ve only won twice in that span.
Guardiola, then, will probably be happy that he won’t be playing any more away games in the tournament as Bayern’s boss.
The Catalan, who joins Manchester City in the summer, has seen his team knocked out of the tournament at the semi-final stage the past two years and is desperate this season will be the third time lucky.
There are many who believe his tenure in Germany will be a failure if he doesn’t secure Europe’s biggest prize, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.