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Pep talk and a little tinkering will sort Guardiola's tiki-taka style

WRITING obituaries for theoretical constructs such as football formations always seemed like a fairly pointless exercise.

Pep Guardiola's methods came under heavy criticism after Bayern Munich suffered their worst home defeat in the Champions League to Real Madrid. Picture: Reuters
Pep Guardiola's methods came under heavy criticism after Bayern Munich suffered their worst home defeat in the Champions League to Real Madrid. Picture: Reuters

Except, perhaps, for Craig Levein's dreaded 4-6-0.

As those old left-wingers Marx and Hegel might say, ideas don't die, they merely become engaged in a dialectic with their antithesis, allowing for the synthesis of a newer, more effective way of playing. Or, to use a more contemporary comparison, they are more like mobile phones than human beings - before long they are forever fated to be replaced by a shinier, more streamlined model. As such, we should be wary of condemning Pep Guardiola's cherished tiki-taka to the scrapheap, a persistent call in the hours since Bayern Munich's 5-0 aggregate humbling at the hands of Real Madrid.

For the uninitiated, 'tiki-taka' has become a derogatory shorthand for the short, one-touch passing game developed by the former Barcelona midfielder at Camp Nou, then transplanted to the Allianz Arena, not to mention the similar style operated by others which propelled the Spanish national team to the last three major titles.

There are already marked differences in the way in which these teams play, due, in most part, to the varying attributes which players bring to the table. Even Guardiola's Bayern are at variance with his Barca: the Catalans in their pomp under Pep would never have done anything so crude as attempt to hit Mario Mandzukic with an early high pass from midfield.

But if we ignore such details for a minute, just as Helenio Herrera's catenaccio system was obliterated by Celtic's Lisbon Lions back in 1967, or Ferenc Puskas and Hungary infamously exposed England's WM formation in 1954, certain systems can find themselves being found out almost overnight. Suddenly it seems legitimate to wonder whether a fairly radical rethink is required. Tuesday night had echoes of Bayern's dismantling of Barcelona in this competition last season, by a 7-0 aggregate, when the same proclamations of doom were dusted down for the first time.

Bayern actually had more dominance over two legs against Madrid than Barcelona had against them last season, bossing an identical 64% of possession in both games, and completing more than 800 extra passes over the two games. They also had more shots on target, 21 to 14, the only problem being the quality of the chances, rather than the quantity. With Arjen Robben facing two players in his area all night, and Franck Ribery ineffectual, most of the shots came from distance, while the prowess Real showed on the counter could easily have harvested more goals.

Guardiola does not appear to be planning to throw his entire world view into the dustbin of history. Why should he, considering Bayern have already won the Bundesliga by a veritable strasse and have a place booked in the German Cup final.

"The argument about my ideas is not valid," he said. "I can't change what I feel and what I feel is that we must play with the ball and attack as much as possible."

So what kind of tinkering with 'tiki-taka' can we expect? Well, accessing the guile of Thiago Alcantara, not deemed fit enough following injury, would be a start, and the arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund in the summer will be night and day compared to the maddening Mandzukic, but defence is the area in need of most attention.

With Pepe and Sergio Ramos offering a masterclass in defensive work and composed possession play - albeit with the peerless screening work of Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso in front of them - it seemed rather unfortunate that Dante and Jerome Boateng should display their foibles to such a large TV audience. Dante, you will recall, should really have cost the club last year's Champions League final, somehow avoiding dismissal for a kick to Marco Reus' stomach which conceded a penalty while he was on a yellow card, while Boateng is still raw, and prone to the kind of mistake which should have given Manchester United's Danny Welbeck a goal in the quarter- final.

Guardiola's style places an onus on the two fearless, ball playing centre-halves, being able to play a high line. But not only was that posted missing, with Bastian Schweinsteiger pushing on in the hunt for goals, they could have done with a specialist screener such as Sergio Busquets sitting in front as well. People questioned Guardiola's decision to substitute Javi Martinez for Mandzukic at half-time while he was chasing five goals, but they were improved immeasurably once he did.

Most importantly, perhaps, football itself can breathe a sigh of relief. Another year will pass without one of the leviathans of the European game managing to retain the continent's premier club competition. The Champions League is a forbidding old theatre which wears its difficulty like a badge of honour. Only a sprinkling of players, courtesy of big-money transfers, have been able to win it with two clubs, the chosen few being Paulo Sousa (Juventus and Borussia Dortmund), Marcel Desailly (Marseille and AC Milan), Gerard Pique (Manchester United and Barcelona) and Samuel Eto'o (Barcelona and Internazionale).

When one team manages to hold the Champions League in their dominion, it really will be time for Uefa to go back to the drawing board.

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