How are Bayern Munich Shaping Up Under Pep Guardiola?

Pep GuardiolaAfter a convincing 2-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s former side Barcelona to mark his arrival at the treble-winning Bayern Munich, the Bavarians now sit one point clear at top of the table, undefeated, without surprise. The Catalan has already stamped his mark on the Bundesliga side within a few months, impressively indoctrinating his possession-based ‘Tiki-Taka’ style with fierce execution.

Guardiola arrived as one of the most sought after managerial free agents in football and with huge expectations. The most commonly asked question that was whispered and thrown around punditry offices alike was can he repeat the success that Jupp Heynckes worked so hard to accomplish? This will be one of Guardiola’s greatest tasks and will see him bombarded both with criticism and praise.

So far in Guardiola’s anticipating campaign, a single defeat arose after the thrilling German Super Cup. Bayern’s greatest rivals in recent years left the pre-match tunnel with more than a point to prove, after many viewed them as wounded animals, lowering their necks after finishing second to Bayern in every competition they faced them in.However, Die Schwarzgelben, or Borussia Dortmund as they are most commonly recognized as, thwarted the Bavarians 4-2, pulling the European Champions back down to earth with a mesmerizing performance of sheer brilliance. The 4-1-4-1 that Guardiola decided to carry on with from pre-season into the Super Cup game has been tried and tested most notably in the Telekom Cup and also against Catalan Giants Barcelona.

Guradiola’s Use of the 4-1-4-1 Formation

A 4-1-4-1 on paper is extremely similar to a 4-3-3 with wingers slightly deeper, but also the formation itself is predicated on maintaining the all-important midfield triangle that is imperative in Bayern’s previous 4-2-3-1 and of course the 4-3-3. One of the most key elements with this formation is the tactical flexibility in that with single swaps of players, the 4-1-4-1 can immediately transition into a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, or even a 4-4-2 if the need arises. This maneuverability and ability to transition in and out of formations to combat the opposition’s plays is imperative to reacting quickly and effectively.

With Heynckes’ 4-2-3-1 seeing Schweinsteger drop between center-backs in possession, this job will undoubtedly be carried through to Guardiola’s side as the German international is exactly the player it seems to make the 4-1-4-1 midfield orchestrate beautifully. His defensive and offensive games are so complete that it doesn’t necessarily require the two central-midfielders to be possession-oriented.

The Use of Thiago Alcantara and the No. 6

After Thiago’s controversial arrival, the Spaniard was utilized in a No. 6 role the entirety of pre-season as well as the Super Cup, dropping in between center-backs, filling in for the absent Schweinsteiger and providing a constant option in central zones. Thiago dictated play from deep and even provided width on both sides of the pitch when Kroos was dropping deep to cover for the former Barcelona youngster, providing that much needed rotational play that is key to Guradiola’s game and formation. Thiago was also sublime by passing long stretching full-backs whenever play became too narrow and overloaded in the center, very similar to a 2010/2011 Xabi Alonso role under Mourinho.

Thiago & GuardiolaThe rotational midfield trio of Bayern’s game, (a defensive midfielder and two central midfielders) was always going to be key to giving them fluidity going forward in numbers as well as unpredictability in attack. Thiago unsurprisingly ventured forward a number of times whenever the opportunity arrived, with Kroos providing cover subtly moving deep, similar to a pairing of Xavi and Busquets.

However, the lack of a center-forward at Bayern able to drop deep to accumulate numbers such as Messi for Barcelona is far from a worry, as Thiago’s explosive runs from his supposed holding midfield role provide a suitable option; his technical stability, eye for a pass, and quick feet see the youngster flourish in these situations. These pockets of runs into dangerous positions when possession is resumed in midfield can even see his role being dubbed as a ‘False 6.’ Another leaf of Pep’s genius? Perhaps.

Takeaways from the City Game

This new formation orchestrated from Guardiola also sees a lot of doubling up from left-mids (whose role is to work vigorously down the channel with little play centrally) and left-backs, most notably Alaba, who played a fantastic game both in the Super Cups against Chelsea and Dortmund and again against Manchester City in the group stages of the Champions League.

The young Austrian was superb working down the channels in unison with his left sided partner, often doubling up and stretching right-backs out of position while players like Shaqiri or Ribery drift inside and make vertical runs that were met by the perfectly weighted pass of the left-back. During these plays which were switched by the excellent Thiago Alcantara or Phillip Lahm from the right side of midfield, Bayern shined incredibly bright.

Against Manchester City, Alaba played a huge role along with his left-sided partner Ribery, doubling up with the Frenchman who shined in 1v1′s. Such plays were achieved by Alaba’s overlapping runs that pulled Richards out of position, creating an awkward situation for Navas who tucked deep to halt Ribery. Navas, being an out-and-out right winger, was out of all sorts in a 1v1 and failed time and time again, which eventually led to the opener where Ribery’s thunderous effort was too hot for Joe Hart to handle.

Soon after, Guardiola’s philosophy of center-backs being stretched saw Dante throw forward a perfectly weighted ball from the halfway line into the path of Muller’s beautifully timed run to make it 0-2, which nullified any hopes of City seeing themselves back into the game. However on the 60th minute, Bayern’s repeated transition of countering hard and fast whenever the ball was won in the opposition’s half was carried out with fierce perpetration as Robben unsurprisingly led the offensive transition and defeated the lethargic City with his much criticized right foot.

Bayerns triumvirate of Muller, Ribery and Alaba on City’s right channel was causing massive overloads that were incredibly difficult to negate due to the Blues’ 4-1-3-2 formation, and as a result, Pellegrini’s men were reluctantly forced into defensive duties in which they were abysmal in.

Conclusion

After just months, the Catalan genius Pep Guardiola appears to have already stamped his philosophy deep in the Bayern ranks, carrying on his possession-based style, his aggressive pressing game, the use of a rotational midfield, the implementation of the goalkeeper being used in almost a ‘sweeper’ position, and many other plays.

Under his leadership, Bayern have trampled over some top sides and emerged the only Bundesliga side to remain unbeaten in the league as of now. So far, Bayern in the offensive phase is predominantly orchestrated from the left and right flanks with Guardiola at the helm. No doubt that the further he continues his predicted dominative reign, the stronger Bayern Munich will grow.

Written by Sean McBride

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Pep Guardiola Believes Abundance of Bayern Munich Midfielders Will be Key to Success

Thiago AlcântaraBayern Munich officially confirmed the signing of Thiago Alcântara from Barcelona for an initial fee thought to be around €22 million. Earlier this month, Thiago was all set to join Manchester united until out of the blue Pep Guardiola boldly stated, “I want Thiago. I have asked Rummenigge and Matthias Summer to get him. It’ll be him or no one. We have many players but we need the special quality that Thiago Alcantara brings.” Is this a statement that sums up Guardiola’s innocent intentions? Or is Thiago’s arrival a subliminal warning signal to other midfielders at the club?

The Bavarian club are coming off the back of a historic treble, and key to this achievement was a midfield that was second to none, not only in Germany but in the entire European continent. So wouldn’t altering an already majestic midfield be an act of foolishness? Enis Koylu, a sports journalist, claims that Thiago’s arrival would upset the balance of his new club and serve as a snub for Mario Gotze, another new signing at Bayern Munich. But again no one, not even Guardiola himself, said that Thiago was bought to take the place of any of the club’s established internationals. “Gotze is a superb player, but I need Thiago” were Pep’s exact words, a clear indication of his acknowledgment of Gotze’s qualities. Then where is the logic in purchasing Thiago?

What is certain about Bayern’s upcoming season is that they will play more than 50 games. German Super Cup, European Super Cup, Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, Champions League, and Club World Cup are the competitions that Bayern will try harder than usual to either retain or reclaim. In order to challenge for all titles and have a fit squad at decisive moments of the next campaign, the German Champions will need a team made up of in-shape winners and fighters, whether a starter or a substitute, and Thiago’s signature serves this purpose. His qualities would surely come in handy.

Arrigo Sacchi, mastermind of the Milan side that dominated the late 1980s, once said that the next tactical revolution in the game would be the conversion of the whole pitch into a midfield area, in addition to the elimination of specialists. What does this imply? This means that teams would have the luxury of having defensive midfielders playing as defenders and attacking midfielders playing as strikers. They would also still function as midfielders, passing the ball around quickly, closing down space, and playing a high tempo game.

Bayern MunichBack to our day, Guardiola has certainly upheld Sacchi’s saying and put his words into practice by converting defense and attack into a midfield. Guardiola’s football simply relies on midfielders. At Barcelona, he had Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago, Busquets, Dos Santos, and Mascherano, and no one complained of not playing as some are implying will happen at Bayern. With proper rotation and balanced motivation, all players can get a chance to prove their worth. The Catalan manager played Mascherano as a defender, Iniesta as a winger and Fabregas as a striker, just as Sacchi expected. He turned his squad into midfielders capable of playing anywhere and doing anything - pass, press, attack, and defend - unlike specialized players.

In the majority of his pre-season games, Guardiola played a 4-1-4-1 system. If he ends up relying on this system next season, that would mean he will be depending on one defensive midfielder, two central midfielders, and maybe a false 9. That is four midfielders on the pitch at the same time doing different tasks but still acting as midfielders. Bayern now have Kroos, Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Gotze, Gustavo, Thiago, Emre Can, and Hojbjerg, which means 8 players should fill 3-4 positions (depending on whether he plays with a midfielder as a false 9, or with a striker) in over 50 games. Is that midfield still overcrowded? Isn’t such competition healthy for a team playing for major trophies?

In football, some players seek money, others more playing time, while a big portion of players hunt for glory, whether it is single such as the Ballon D’or or collective such as a major tournament. When a player reaches a place in his career where nothing matters more than holding a Champions League title, achieving a historic treble or even a double, they would most definitely, and willingly, sacrifice certain things such as more minutes on the field. In small teams, it’s more important to sustain a certain balance in the squad, between achieving mediocre targets and having a satisfied team. Meanwhile, in bigger teams, the most important thing is the collective achievements, realized through having a sufficient number of world-class players capable of fairly competing to win a starting place.

Guardiola doesn’t rely on one system only, he always experiments. “Javier Martinez can play at center-back, he played very well there with Athletic,” stated a confident Guardiola. Such an alteration would definitely free up a spot in midfield. Robben, Ribery, Muller, Shaqiri, and maybe even Gotze will challenge for a spot on the two wings. What is certain is that Guardiola is unpredictable when it comes to squad selection, and what is even more certain is that a manager of Pep’s caliber will relish seeing his outstanding players battle it out for a starting spot.

After all, in four years with Barcelona, he has never played the same team twice in a row. That is because he makes sure to make the most out of every talent in his squad, be it through player rotation, positional interchange or tactical shifts. Options are what Guardiola seeks, and Thiago’s arrival gives him exactly that. In any given team, under any given manager’s guidance, abundance in players at a certain position might cause problems such as dissatisfaction and disillusionment. But in a team such as Bayern Munich and under Pep’s guidance, the wealth in talents is going to be more than welcome.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

Is a Spell of Bayern Munich Dominance on the Way?

Bayern MunichThe 2012/13 season saw Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich side win a historic treble, kicking off much speculation that we were about to see a Bayern side returning to the glory days of many years gone by.

Alongside a domestic double of the Bundesliga title and the DFB-Pokal, they also won the UEFA Champions League against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, avenging the defeat in the final a year before against Chelsea on Bayern’s own ground, the Allianz Arena. With Heynckes having already announced his retirement earlier in the season, he couldn’t have asked for a better send-off than the one he received from his side in the end.

Winning a league title in any big league is a huge achievement, and Bayern deserve credit for securing the 23rd title in their history. However, they deserve special credit for the way in which they won it. After all 34 games had been played, Bayern finished on 91 points, 25 clear of nearest challengers Borussia Dortmund, in a remarkable season. FC Hollywood also scored 98 goals and conceded just 18 on their way to the title, a feat matched by few teams over the years.

There was also a number of emphatic results throughout the campaign, such as the 9-2 rout of Hamburg and 6-1 wins over Werder Bremen and Stuttgart. Now, these teams are understandably much weaker than Bayern, but not to the level shown by the scoreline, which just shows how good Bayern were domestically last season. These weren’t just one-offs either; Die Bayern scored 5 or more in league matches on six occasions throughout the campaign, and I think you’d have to go a fair way to find a better record in the same standard of league.

The highest point of Bayern’s season had to be their 7-0 drubbing of Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final over the two legs. When these two giants of world football, I expected Barcelona to emerge on top as the victors, as you do whenever Barcelona are playing, even against sides this good. I knew we’d be in for a great couple of games too, although I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen.

A Thomas Muller double, alongside goals from Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, gave Bayern a 4-0 lead after the first leg in Germany. The entire football world were in shock; since when do Barcelona crumble? However much criticism the Spaniards received in that game, you can’t take away from the Germans’ performance, as they played magnificently, deservedly romping to victory.

There was then much talk as to whether Barcelona would be able to pull off one of football’s greatest ever comebacks in the second leg at the Camp Nou, however the odds on that were huge. I did, however, expect Barca to put up a fight, and at least win this leg. What happened? Goals from Robben and Muller sandwiched a Pique own goal, sending the football world into bedlam again.

Bayern MunichIn a way, this was even more of a shock than the first leg. Barcelona, supposedly the greatest side to have ever lived, had been systematically dismantled home and away by Bayern Munich in a 7-0 triumph. People were in disbelief as to how it could happen, me included. However, I now believe it was just a sign that Bayern Munich are returning to the glory days of players such as Franz Beckenbauer.

With Heynckes set to retire, Bayern had to go about looking for his successor, and to my surprise, appointed one before their current one had even head out of the door. What was this new man’s name? Josep Guardiola of Spain, better known as Pep to his friends. The former Barcelona man, who was supposedly taking a year’s sabbatical from the game after resigning from Barcelona at the end of the 2011-12 season, had been appointed as the new man to take Bayern forward in a signing that shocked many.

The very fact that Guardiola has chosen to make the move to Germany shows the progress that Bayern are making as a club to return to those old heights. The 42-year-old is a manager of unimaginable pedigree, having won almost everything in offer in his stint at Barcelona, and it was a shock to many when he decided to resign from his club last year. However, with great ability comes huge expectations. The Bayern fans will be expecting a huge amount of success from their new coach, and I am predicting him to bring it with his traditional possession style of play that was so successful at the Camp Nou, tearing teams apart on many occasions.

As in any successful squad, there is always a core of players that are vital to the team, and are vital to any success that the team may have. I believe that there are five of these players at Bayern, running right through the spine of the team. Starting off with Manuel Neuer; the goalkeeper signed from Schalke in 2011 and has been an integral part of Bayern’s side since then, keeping 21 clean sheets in the league last season and showcasing why he is one of the top keepers in world football.

Next, we have Philipp Lahm, who has been ever-present in the Bayern side since starting with them in 2003. He has now made nearly 300 league appearances for the side, and is the captain and a popular figure among both players and fans. Bastain Schweinsteiger is another player who has spent the entirety of his senior career with Die Bayern, making 299 appearances in the league since 2002. He is now a key, creative part of a Bayern side full to the brim with world-class quality.

Frank Ribery is a player who is starting to reach his prime now, having been with the club since 2007 and making over 150 league appearances. He was crucial in Bayern’s treble win last year, and still has a couple of good seasons in him before he steps aside for a younger player to come through. Finally, we come to Thomas Muller, Bayern’s top scorer in all competitions last season, with 23 goals. Despite being just 23, he is an essential part of both Bayern’s side and the German national team’s, and will remain so for years to come, maybe even becoming one of the world’s best players.

ThiagoSummer is always an exciting time, as the comings and goings can decide who comes out on top after a long and arduous league campaign. We saw it in the Premier League last year, with the signing of Robin Van Persie being the reason Manchester United won their 20th league title. Bayern have taken very little time in going about their business, signing two of Europe’s best young midfielders and becoming the front-runners for one of German football’s leading strikers to sign next summer.

Bayern Munich’s latest signing is Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona, Guardiola’s former club. He was confirmed to be joining after the new manager expressed a big interest in the youngster that Manchester United had been rumored to be chasing for some time. However, Guardiola persuaded the midfielder he had previously managed at the Camp Nou to move to the Allianz Arena instead of Old Trafford, once they paid his release clause. It is without a doubt a fantastic signing for Bayern and will allow Thiago to develop properly. Given that Guardiola came out to the press and stated his interest in the 22-year-old assures me that he will be given the chances in the Bayern team to prove his worth alongside the banks of quality Bayern also possess.

However, that isn’t the biggest signing that Bayern have made this summer. This other signing is none other then Mario Gotze (from Borussia Dortmund), who joined after Bayern paid his release clause a few weeks ago. He is one of Germany’s rising stars, and has been a key figure in the Dortmund side over the last couple of years. Dortmund are very disappointed to have lost one of their star players to a rival, and I think it signifies how far they have to go as a club to reach the size of their Bavarian rivals. For me, the allure of turning out in that red shirt is bigger than turning out in the yellow one of Dortmund.

Bayern also look set to sign another Dortmund player next summer, Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who was a revelation last season for his club and has attracted the attentions of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Manchester United and City as well as Chelsea. However, the 24-year-old favors a move to Bavaria, and looks set to sign on a free transfer when his current contract expires next summer. Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp has even gone as far in recent times as to say he expects his star man upfront to sign with the treble winners next year. This will be a further blow to the club, but serves as a reinforcement that Dortmund are much smaller than Bayern, and it’ll take a long time to change that.

Bayern MunichPre-season matches are always focused upon in preparation for the new season and can provide a good view of things to come at times. However, they can often be unreliable, with results not reflecting competitive games, usually down to a lack of fitness. I am taking a good look at Bayern’s friendlies this year in order to ascertain what kind of tactics Guardiola will be employing with his new club. So far, he has faced six teams and scored a huge 50 goals throughout these six encounters. In fairness, they were all against much weaker sides, but it is still a good way to look at how Guardiola will have his charges playing, and it seems he wants them in a similar fashion as he did his players at Barcelona: playing possession football. We saw how well it worked in La Liga; now it’s time to see the effect it has in the Bundesliga.

If a side wants to dominate year after year, it has to have young talent in the ranks ready to come in and make an impact. Many of the top teams such as Manchester United and Barcelona possess this, and Bayern Munich are no exception. Players such as David Alaba are already big parts of the side, often starting ahead of older players in the same position. There are also players like the Swiss Xherdan Shaqiri and Emre Can, who are on the fringes of the first-team and are ready to take their rightful place in the side over the next couple of seasons. They are in the meantime benefiting from knowledge passed on to them from their more experienced teammates.

Most likely, both Thiago and Mario Gotze will come into the Bayern squad and play a big part in the first-team next season. Gotze seems set to lead the line up front, biding time until the arrival of Lewandowski next summer, and Thiago will fit into the central midfield role, playing an attacking game. This young talent collectively has a phenomenal level of potential, and will help Bayern stay on top for a long time to come.

Despite the strength in the Bayern ranks, I still believe there are a couple of areas that could be improved on. For example, I might look for possible successors to Philpp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. As brilliant as these players are, they aren’t getting any younger, with both being in their late twenties now. This means they’ll only have a couple more years at the top of their game, before they have to hand the baton on to someone else.

In Schweinsteiger’s case, this won’t be that difficult, as Bayern possess a wealth of talent already in that area of the pitch; I think that Thiago, their newest signing, could be the one in line to be his replacement, although I feel he would want to start off as a first-choice player much sooner than that. For Lahm, it is a bit more difficult; there are very few good, young right-backs in the game at the moment, and even less who would be able to live up to the standards of Lahm in their careers. You cannot underestimate Lahm’s influence on that team, and it will take a very special player to take his place.

Bayern MunichIt’s not just the Barcelona results that caught my eye for Bayern Munich in the Champions League over the last couple of years. In this year’s competition alone, they beat Italian champions Juvetus and Arsenal alongside Barcelona on their way to winning the crown. In the 2011-12 edition, in which they also reached the final, they beat Manchester City and Real Madrid on the road to the final on their own turf.

No team can cause that many upsets and get into two consecutive Champions League finals without having some serious degree of quality about them, both as a team and as individual players. Thankfully, Bayern Munich haven’t fallen into the trap of selling off their best players, then not replacing them with players of the same quality. In fact, they have pretty much kept the same side, which is important, as stability provides a good platform to work from in order to achieve success over a long period of time.

So, are we now headed for a period of time when Bayern will dominate European and world football? I think so, yes. Not only do they possess one of the strongest sides in the world right now, but they are constantly attracting new, young talent such as Thiago and Gotze that will allow the good times to keep rolling long after the current generation have hung up their boots.

They may have a new man at the helm, but apart from that, they won’t change too much, and the signs so far have shown that Guardiola is the right man for the job. Over the last couple of years with Heynckes, they’ve shown they can easily beat the best sides both domestically and at the international level, which is what will decide the success Bayern has in the future.

The club also has some great fans in tow (attracted to the criminally low ticket prices, with the cheapest season ticket being less than £70 for all Bundesliga matches), that haven’t always had the best of times in the last three or four years. They came second to Borussia Dortmund in two of the last three league campaigns and lost two out of their last three Champions League finals (in 2010 and 2012). But now, Bayern Munich look to be entering a long period of continued success under one of the world’s best coaches of modern day football.

Written by Ben Warner

Barcelona Must Focus on the Future as Bayern Munich Sign Thiago Alcântara

Thiago AlcântaraFor the first time since 2008 things are not looking positive. A feeling of uncertainty has crept to the hearts and minds of many cules. The much-needed stability is fading away bit by bit. Tactical matters aside, Rosell and co. are unintentionally dragging the club into controversy, which will eventually affect the team’s performance on the pitch. Running a club of Barcelona’s stature is never easy, and gaining everybody’s contentment is almost impossible, but when voices of concern reach unprecedented heights then surely something wrong is happening.

Tito Vilanova is once again expected to be absent from our first four league games, while Thiago’s mishandling led to his departure to Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, Rosell is tinkering in the statutes to change the number of needed votes it would take to have him removed from office, while Lionel Messi faces tax problems.

The failure to capture a reliable defender is yet another problem facing Barcelona, and Abidal’s mistreatment led to release and a move to Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. Looking into the future, Eusebio’s Barca B are facing problems and a decline their performance, while star striker Gerard Deulofeu will surely be mishandled by the club in the future.

The list of problems facing Barcelona, both in the present and in the future, goes on and on. Things are definitely not looking as rosy as they were couple of years ago, and the dominance of the La Liga Champions may be slowly fading away.

Thiago Alcantara is a La Masia graduate. The son of Mazinho awed all cules as he made his way to the first team. La Masia graduatess importance to Barcelona’s way of playing is something indubitable, due to the fact that they start grasping this philosophy from day one.

When Pere Guardiola sat with Rosell, Zubizaretta, Mazinho, and Thiago to discuss the latter’s contract last year, Pep’s clever brother insisted on including a section in the contract that clearly states that Thiago’s release clause would decrease from 90 million to just 18 million Euros if he was not played in a minimum of 30 minutes in at least 60% of Barcelona’s games. When asked about this issue, Jordi Roura said:

“It is not the coaching staff’s job to know about such clauses in player’s contracts, we only decide who plays based on sporting reasons.”

If that is the case, then whose job is it to be aware of such clauses? Zubizaretta’s? If he knew but did not inform the coaching staff then it is a disaster, and if he informed the coaching staff but they did not act accordingly to solve this problem, then it’s a bigger disaster.

Thiago AlcântaraEither way, the club put itself in a critical situation. One might argue that Thiago was not played frequently because Xavi’s presence is more influential in big games such as Milan, PSG, and Bayern’s matches. But didn’t Barcelona have a 15 point advantage in La Liga since December 2012? Thiago surely deserved to play on merit of his qualities, let alone to rotate the squad and avoid fatigue.

Whatever the reasons, and whatever the outcome, this clearly is a massive administrative and technical blunder that could have been avoided. A manager should possess good management skills in addition to being a good tactician, and Thiago’s case shows that Tito is severely lacking in the management department. Either someone is insincere, or there is an apparent lack of communication between the board, its staff members, and the players regarding contract extensions.

Zubizaretta should have been informed that Alberto Aquilani was not played in the last several games of the 2011-12 season with AC Milan in order not to activate the clause that obliges the Serie A side to buy him. This is how such clauses are handled.

Although this whole situation is the club’s responsibility, Thiago should have been more attached to the crest and colors of the club. He is only 22; Xavi and Iniesta were patient before becoming first choice Barca players. What differentiates this Barcelona generation of players from other players is that they are attached to the club; they are not mercenaries following financial gain or a personal glory.

They eat, drink, live, and breathe Barcelona. What makes Thiago think he is better than this? It’s only fair to assume that Thiago is seeking a move abroad in order to gain more minutes on the pitches before Del Bosque makes his mind about who he will be taking to Brazil next summer. But is that really the case?

It’s official now, Bayern and Barcelona agreed on a 25 million deal that sees Thiago ply his trade at the Allianz Arena. Earlier this month Cruyff clearly said:

“Thiago should be careful in making his choice. If Barcelona can guarantee him more playing time then he should stay, if not then he should leave. It is as simple as that.”

So was Thiago really considering staying? Was the allure of playing under Guardiola’s management more appealing than anything Barca can guarantee? Was Thiago more of a mercenary than a Blaugrana faithful? Before Thiago’s imminent transfer, Gerard Piqué also had an opinion concerning this matter:

“There is a possibility that he could leave but we have to convince him that the best place for him is Barcelona. Players in his position, like Xavi, were patient and they ended up defining an era.”

Thiago AlcântaraIt should be noted that Xavi had nobody in his way, except incompetent managers, while Thiago at 22 could’ve realistically only truly become a Barca fixture after at least two more season. But is the alternative much better?

Bayern Munich are coming out of the most successful season in the club’s history. Having won an unprecedented treble, with a midfield which was second to none, not only in Germany, but in the entire European continent. So altering an already majestic midfield would be an act of foolishness, and Thiago’s World Cup aspirations surely are not one of Pep’s concerns in the upcoming campaign. So If Thiago doesn’t adapt instantly to the German style of play there is a big chance he won’t be a regular starter. Thus being in a situation close to the one he was in at Barcelona.

In addition to that, Bayern already have an abundance of talent when it comes to the middle of the field. Martinez, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Gustavo, Gotze, and Emre Can all can play in Thiago’s position. Even with a proper rotation he would not end up playing a sufficient number of minutes to enable him to surpass Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Cesc, and Alonso in the national team.

So unlike what many think, staying at Barcelona might have boosted his national team chances more than moving abroad. By looking at Vicente Del Bosque’s squads ever since he took over the national team, it is quite obvious that the vast majority of his selections are players from Barcelona and Real Madrid.

At Barcelona, Thiago’s quality was known, he show cased his skills since day one, and every single one in Barcelona was convinced that he was going to reach great heights in the near future, that’s why he would have been able to build a connection with Spanish players at Barcelona, which will positively affect the national team and support his cause of representing La Roja.

Currently, Thiago is a Bayern Munich player, but he would have been smart to carefully assess things and avoid making a hasty decision. An excellent player would have always shined no matter which colors he is wearing, and how many minutes he is getting.

Although he is concerned with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, his move to Bayern doesn’t guarantee regular starts and successive success. As for Barcelona, it’s a case of you don’t know what you got until it’s gone, and now, it is officially gone.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

Thiago Alcântara: Young Midfield Maestro Shakes the World with Unbelievable Talent

Thiago AlcântaraThiago Alcantara is thought to be one of the best young players. A few months ago, he was known by few, but since he captained the Spain U21 side to European success, everyone knows the name of Thiago Alcantara.

Although Thiago is a Spanish international, he was born in Italy, son to 1994 Brazilian World Cup winner Marzinho. Growing up watching his dad winning World Cups, he learned the footballing trade easily, and at the early age of five, Alcantara was signed up by the lower levels of Flamengo.

He spent a year developing his natural football talents in Italy, before he and his father moved to Spain, where he played with Ureca. He was at the Galician club for 4 years, before Kelme CF snapped him up as his father played for Elche CF. After 5 years in Spain, Thiago moved back to Flamengo aged 10. A second time at the club - stretching to four years - got the attention of the mighty Barcelona, and soon the 14-year-old was a member of the famous La Masia.

Thiago developed massively at La Masia for his first few years before being called up to the Barcelona B team in the 2008/09 season and making 25 appearances. Following that season, he made another 34 appearances in 2 seasons, netting three times. Pep Guardiola was impressed by the player he’d once coached in the Barcelona B team and gave Alcantara his first senior appearance. On 17 May 2009, he replaced Eidur Gudjohnsen in a 2-1 loss away against Mallorca. By this point, Thiago had been labelled as one to look out for. Yet he had to wait for a solid season.

When the 2010-11 season had come to a close, Pep Guardiola had named Thiago in his match day squad 23 times in the Liga BBVA. He’d scored his first senior goal in a 4-0 thrashing of Racing de Santander and started six games for the La Liga Champions as a 20 year old.

Should Thiago not have been named in the match day squad so many times in that 2010-11 season, I don’t think he’d be the player he is today. Pep Guardiola often showed faith in the young players from La Masia in his time at Barcelona. Now, he’s gone, and although we all thought he had no impact on this seasons league win, I’ve realized more than ever how important he was.

Thiago AlcântaraThe classic case of Guardiola and Barcelona is Lionel Messi. He had the natural talent, and Guardiola not only spotted that, but then believed in him and was willing to risk his job to play the Argentinian as an 18-year-old. It’s the same case with Thiago now. He was given a huge confidence boost being named in the match day squad, and even starting on six occasions. Now, you look at him, and he’s one of the most eagerly anticipated prospects in the world.

As I looked to increase my knowledge on the upcoming stars in the footballing world, I watched the U-21 European Championships this summer. So, when I heard the rumors of Thiago making the switch to Manchester United, I looked out for him in particular.

What I thought after seeing a few matches in which he played in was that he was stylish. If he was walking around the streets of London, he’d be the guy with “swag,” but he’s not. He’s on the football pitch. He knows where and when he’s going to pass each ball, he has the stamina of a young puppy, and he’s one of the best young players in the world.

As with all Barcelona players of the current day and age, he pushes as far forward as possible and can do this all match after being installed with the Barcelona DNA at La Masia. Although Barcelona are one the best teams in the world, and they have one of the strongest sides, Thiago stands out like a beacon. He plays just in front of the defensive midfielder at Barcelona and adapts his role to wherever need be in midfield playing for his national side at every level.

There were a few things I instantly noticed about Thiago’s style of play. There are the one’s that the stats show, like the accuracy of his passing (93%). However, he adds a lot more to the game than that. He is a composed midfielder, who isn’t scared of receiving the ball like many players who have come through La Masia. He can control the ball with such ease, it’s brilliant to watch. His calmness on the ball is much like Xavi and Iniesta. However, he is very different to the two midfield maestros.

Xavi and Iniesta have been two of the best players in the world for years now. However, although the two World Cup winners will forever be known as two of the greatest, they lack the thing Thiago has: the unexpected genius.

Thiago AlcântaraIf you get the chance to watch Barcelona or Spain in the next few weeks, look out for Thiago. Look for the passes that you don’t often see. The ambitious ones. The delicate chip over the defenders head to Messi or Torres. The little flick on and then the quick run forward to take the ball once again, never losing concentration.

As football fans, what excites us is the goals, and Thiago isn’t just the silent midfielder making the sly pass for someone else to score. When he hasn’t got possession of the ball, he’s making the run into the box waiting to pounce. In the final of the U21 European Championships, he scored a header, a left corner,  and then a right corner; it doesn’t get much better than that.

The end of the season has passed, and it wouldn’t be a footballing summer without all of the world’s top players, young and old, being linked with all the top clubs in the world. It’s been Thiago’s turn this year with the Spaniard being heavily linked with English Champions Manchester United. Alcantara has a release clause of around £15 million until July 31, and should United activate it, it will be down to him.

Thiago and the Red Devils’ keeper, David De Gea, are close friends and that could come useful in United’s bid for the 22-year-old. Thiago has been told he will not get increased game time next season as he asked for, and Barcelona look like they have given up in their attempts to keep him at the club.

Many different journalists and papers from various countries have reported many different stories and it looks like the Spaniard is set for a move to Old Trafford. All we know is this boy is good. This boy, can do anything.

Written by Harry Robinson

Italy U21 2-4 Spain U21: Thiago Hat-Trick Leads Young Spaniards to European Title

Italy U21 2-4 Spain U21After what has been an interesting competition in Israel, it was finally time for a new U21 European Champion to be crowned. It would be either defending champions Spain, or a very good Italian side. Like the senior Euros 12 months ago, Italy and Spain managed to beat everyone else and prove that they are the top two teams in European football. And just like the senior Euros, it turned out to be an exciting final. 6 great goals were scored between the two teams in Jerusalem, but in the end, there would only be one winner.

Devis Mangia and Julien Lopetegui both lined up serious squads as they both knew how important this match would be. Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara, Malaga’s Isco Alarcon, and Atletico Madrid’s Koke Resurreccion were part of the midfield in Lopetegui’s starting XI in an offensive 4-3-3 formation. Meanwhile, Mangia lined up, among others, AS Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi, Liverpool’s Fabio Borini, and Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne in a 4-2-2 double 6 (4-2-2-2) formation. Both sides looked all set as they stood for their national anthems before Italy kicked-off the game.

Spain got their first corner after only 3 minutes, but it bore nothing major. 3 minutes after that, however, Alvaro Morata got a hold of the ball and crossed successfully to Thiago Alcantara, who was able to get away from defenders and head the ball into the net past young Francesco Bardi to make it 1-0. Spain’s lead didn’t last too long, however, as Ciro Immobile was able to equalize just 4 minutes later with the help of Hellas Verona’s Matteo Bianchetti. David De Gea’s run of clean sheets (from the competition’s group stages) came to an end when Immobile’s incredible piece of skill left him defeated. The 23-year-old Genoa center-forward brought down the ball from a Bianchetti cross and scored a beauty with his second touch. The game was then back to where it had started, with both sides level.

Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata had a chance to put his side back in front 6 minutes later, but Bardi managed to save. The young goalkeeper was called into action again not so long after that, when Koke almost scored past him after a Isco free-kick was blocked by the defensive wall. Fortunately for the Azzurini, Bardi managed to save again. Barcelona center-back Marc Bartra also had a chance soon after but sent the ball far over.

Italy U21 2-4 Spain U21Italy also had some good chances in the first half with the best chance coming for Florenzi in the 25th minute. The 22-year-old midfielder sent a strong volley towards the net but David de Gea, proving just why he’s an English Champion with Manchester United, saved brilliantly. Francesco Bardi was finally beaten on the half-hour mark when the Spain captain scored his second of the night. Alcantara picked up a good diagonal ball from Koke, brought it down well, and shot. Bardi stretched to try and save but the shot was just too powerful. 2-1!

Thiago Alcantara, who had not managed to score in the tournament before this final, got a chance to complete his hat-trick shortly after he had scored his second when his side was awarded a penalty for a foul by US Grosseto’s Giulio Donati on Barcelona’s Chrtistian Tello inside the box. The 22-year-old midfielder made no mistakes and it was 3-1 to Spain! Despite having a secure 2-goal cushion nearing the end of the first half, Spain were still pushing to get a 4th goal to finish off Italy with a good chance for Alvaro Morata. Had it not been for their captain Luca Caldirola who blocked the shot, Italy would have had more problems going into half-time. Lorenzo Insigne tried to get Italy’s second before the half-time whistle was blown, but fired over.

The second half started the same way the first half had ended, with Spain, rather than Italy, looking to add to their tally. Francesco Bardi had a harder job than David De Gea for the opening minutes of the second half. Thiago Alcantara tried to hit a fourth one, forcing the Novara Calcio man to a tough save. Lorenzo Insigne, Alessandro Florenzi, and Fabio Borini threatened at the other end as well in that order, but all three missed their chances.

Devis Mangia then decided to make a double substitution, bringing on Bologna’s Manolo Gabbiadini and Empoli’s Riccardo Saponara on for goalscorer Ciro Immobile and Alessandro Florenzi respectively. However, Spain continued to threaten more. Italy finally started to believe it was over when their opponents scored a fourth goal. The young Spanish side were awarded a second penalty for a foul by Vasco Regini on Barcelona right-back Martin Montoya inside the box, for which the Empoli left-back was issued a yellow card. Isco stepped up to take the penalty and sent Francesco Bardi the wrong way with a good strike. Although 24 minutes still remained on the clock, it started looking like Spain would emerge winners with how they were playing. 4-1 to Spain!

Italy U21 2-4 Spain U21Julen Lopetegui made his first substitution (Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Munian for Cristian Tello) with 19 minutes still to play. Devis Mangia responded by making his third substitution (Grosseto’s Marco Crimi for PSG’s Marco Verratti) 5 minutes later. Alvaro Morata had threatened 2 minutes earlier, but Francesco Bardi had managed to save yet again. Time was running out fast for the Azzurini. Substitute Manolo Gabbiadini had a good shot from 20 meters out, but David de Gea was able to escape as it went over the bar.

Italy were able to get a second goal 10 minutes from time thanks to a Fabio Borini beauty. Combining with teammate Lorenzo Insigne, Borini was able to get away from the Spain defenders and shoot powerfully into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Even de Gea couldn’t do too much to stop the powerful shot from the determined Liverpool man. Julen Lopetegui responded to this goal by making a second substitution (SL Benfica’s Rodrigo Machado for top-scorer Alvaro Morata) and then a third (Malaga’s Ignacio Camacho for Koke Resurreccion) 6 minutes later, after Vasco Regini had missed the target for Italy. Italy tried to get something out of the remaining minutes but Spain managed to hold on and clinch the Under-21 title for the fourth time in the history of the competition.

Alvaro Morata’s challenge for the competition’s Adidas U21 Golden Boot had been contested by fellow teammate Thiago Alcantara, who picked up the award at the end of the competition for his four goals in the competition. In second place were fellow teammates Thiago Alcantara and Isco Alarcon on three goals in six games. Spain, having conceded only 2 goals and scored 12 goals from the group stages of the competition, were more than worthy of being crowned UEFA European Under-21 Championship winners.

Written by Ange Marline