Cata­lans ex­pose cracks in Pep’s phi­los­o­phy

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY PETE JENSEN

PEP GUARDI­OLA HAS al­ways known that life away from Leo Messi and Barcelona would be tough. If you don’t have Barça play­ers it’s hard to play the Barça way.

Yes­ter­day was a fur­ther re­minder of that and also of the cold real­ity that even when you buy Barcelona play­ers, the end prod­uct still ends up look­ing very dif­fer­ent.

Dur­ing at least three of his glo­ri­ous four years at the club he em­ployed a false nine be­tween two wingers. He tried to do much the same last night but for all that Kevin De Bruyne is a won­der­ful player he could only get close with his chances, whereas Messi buried his.

Play­ing with a goal­keeper who can come out of his area is fine but he needs to re­mem­ber not to use his hands. No won­der Guardi­ola wanted Marc an­dre Ter Ste­gen in the sum­mer ahead of Clau­dio Bravo.

And then there is John Stones. Once dubbed the Barns­ley Beck­en­bauer he was up against the man they call the Piquen­bauer here, and it did not go well. Ger­ard Pique went off early in the first half.

Stones must have wished he had mid­way through the sec­ond pe­riod when he was made to look fool­ish by Luis Suarez. Pique he is not - just as Bravo is nei­ther Neuer nor Ter Ste­gen, and De Bruyne is not Messi.

Would things have turned out dif­fer­ently had Guardi­ola played Sergio Aguero? There was strange touch­line emer­gency meet­ing mid­way through the first half when De Bruyne was be­ing given fur­ther in­struc­tions by Guardi­ola and he ap­peared to be say­ing: ‘who me?’

Guardi­ola seems not to be over-en­thu­si­as­tic about Aguero. He has often had a strange re­la­tion­ship with his cen­tre-for­wards.

When he took over at Barcelona in 2008 he in­her­ited two of the finest ex­po­nents but Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o ended up play­ing wide in the front three with Messi play­ing through the mid­dle as a false nine.

Henry and Eto’o at least kept their places, more than any­thing be­cause they were pre­pared to run. Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic was less open to new ex­pe­ri­ences and ended up dropped in his first sea­son leav­ing Barcelona at the end of it never for­giv­ing the Barça coach for, as he saw it, ru­in­ing his Barcelona ca­reer.

Barcelona signed an­other world class cen­tre-for­ward to re­place Ibrahi­movic but de­spite be­ing Spain’s all-time record goalscorer David Villa never played as the num­ber nine, as Guardi­ola per­sisted with Messi as a with­drawn cen­tre-for­ward.

At Bay­ern Mu­nich Guardi­ola in­her­ited big Croa­t­ian cen­tre­for­ward Mario Mandzukic but they fell out over the course of their first sea­son to­gether and there was no sec­ond sea­son when he was sold to Atletico Madrid.

‘He dis­re­spected me’ said Mandzukic in an in­ter­view after the move adding that no, he would not be sit­ting down for a drink with him any time soon.

Guardi­ola had done his best to find a false nine at Bay­ern but var­i­ous at­tempts failed. He be­lieved Franck Ribery was per­fect for the job but French­man didn’t agree.

In his sec­ond year Robert Le­wandowski played cen­tre­for­ward for Bay­ern. He had not been Pep’s pick but the size of the fee and the Pole’s abil­ity and work-rate helped to make it work.

At City the false nine ex­per­i­ment got its first out­ing in a big game and, much like Stones mark­ing of Suarez and Bravo’s ex­cur­sions for­ward, it ended badly. – The In­de­pen­dent

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