MIGUEL DELANEY: Possession nine-tenths of the law for Guardiola

It was to be expected in the press conference, but that’s perhaps also why Bayern Munich so relentlessly now live up to expectations on the pitch.

On the eve of the European champions’ trip to Arsenal, and in the one moment when a relatively calm Pep Guardiola began to get a little more intense, the Catalan coach growled that his side would be coming to the Emirates with the intention of absolutely dominating this last 16 tie.

“When tomorrow we leave the ball to them, we are going to suffer,” Guardiola acknowledged, before offering a warning. “Tomorrow, the most important thing, me [thinking] like a trainer, the players [thinking] like players, the team will take more of the ball, dominate the ball, we are going to get the chance.”

While many others would think that’s a given once you take into account Guardiola’s famous past and philosophy, the Bayern manager insisted it is all the more important because of his knowledge of Arsenal.

Whatever about the German side’s victory at the Emirates under Jupp Heynckes last season, Guardiola has never beaten Arsene Wenger’s side away from home. His Barcelona drew 2-2 in 2010 and lost 2-1 in 2011. Although the Catalans eventually went through on both occasions and dominated the majority of all four individual matches against Arsenal, that has seemingly left Guardiola with a lesson.

“Arsenal is a typical, typical team from the Champions League. [Arsene Wenger] has coached the last 20 years with the same idea, with good quality, with passing.

“I never won here. I learned you can never dominate 90 minutes against Arsenal. What happens is that you can dominate 30 minutes, to half-time, to 75, but a complete 90 minutes is impossible.

“I am pretty sure tomorrow the fans are going to enjoy because Bayern want the ball and Arsenal wants the ball. When that happens, it’s good.

“I don’t think too much about the second game, we concentrate on what we have to do tomorrow.”

If Guardiola isn’t looking too far ahead, he is also refusing to look at history.

There can be no disputing the grand theme to this entire campaign for the defending champions. Bayern can become the first side to retain the European Cup since 1990, and Guardiola himself can perhaps go some way to making up for just failing to manage that feat with Barcelona in 2010 and 2012. On both occasions, as champions, they went out in the semi-finals.

Guardiola claims he does not look at it in that way, but he couldn’t deny the way people view his team — and the pressure it puts on them. That is perhaps why he so frequently repeats key mantras like keeping possession.

“I can’t compare to my past, my Barcelona. I have to handle, to live every game, to accept we are favourites, to say we are favourites to win, I can’t deny that I would like to live without these feelings. It’s impossible.

“I think our target is play every week better than the last week. Retaining the title is so difficult. It hasn’t happened for a long time. I am not worried about that. My life is not going to change. I know that people are waiting there. I know when we don’t win we are disappointed for the people but I know how difficult it is in sport to win one year and then the year after.”

Arjen Robben, however, was more willing to discuss the idea of making history.

“At the moment everybody is enjoying playing for FC Bayern. We have such a strong team with a lot of good players. It is not about the first 11 but we have a very strong squad and everyone is enjoying it. We try to play our football, good football and the hunger is still there and there hasn’t been a team that has won the Champions League twice in a row so that is a good target for us to try to reach the final. But also we are having two feet on the ground we are not in the quarters, but the round before, and we have to beat Arsenal. These are two finals and it’s going to be two very difficult games for us.”

Guardiola also downplayed any discussion about “failure” and the fact Arsenal have not won anything in nine years.

“Life isn’t only winning trophies. I know the association is if you win, you’re the best; if you’re second, you’re the worst. Not because I win, I’m a good trainer or if I lose I’m a bad trainer.”

This, however, is set to be some game.


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