It was Ancelotti who launched the Guardiola Syndrome

It was Ancelotti who launched the Guardiola Syndrome

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27 Apr 2022
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The start

On April 29, 2014, Carlo Ancelotti inflicted the most crushing defeat of his career on Pep Guardiola. It played a key role in the formation of the Catalan complex, which is known as the “Guardiola syndrome”. Bayern lost at home to Madrid 0-4, but in this case, the context of the match is even more important than the humiliating score. It is detailed by Marty Perarnau in Pep Confidential – the value of this book lies in the author’s exclusive access to the team. Throughout Pep’s first season in Germany, he accompanied Bayern, and later described in detail what he saw and heard. According to Perarnau, despite the 0-1 defeat in Madrid, Guardiola was pleased with the content of the first meeting – he believed that the team succeeded in everything except the implementation. After that match, the Catalan addressed the players with the following words: “I am eternally grateful to you for everything you did at the Bernabéu. You showed exceptional courage and played just the kind of football that I want to see. I’m proud of all of you.” In the return match, Guardiola wanted to use a 3-4-3 formation, which in some episodes turned into a 3-5-2. In this arrangement, he saw the optimal balance for dominating the center and deterring counterattacks. But closer to the match, the coach had doubts. He remembered that the last time the team had played at three quarterbacks was four months ago, and he doubted that he would have enough time to prepare. Bayern entered the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is called 4-2-4 in the book (the difference is that Müller is written as an attacker, not a position under the striker), which further emphasizes the problem of the center and containing the counterattacks with which Madrid destroyed Bayern. The failure was well-deserved and full-blown. “The whole season I avoided playing 4-2-4. All season. And today, on the most important day of the year, I decided to play like this. A complete observer, ”Pep Perarnau wrote down the post-match emotion. 

Importance of this

Guardiola’s original plan ended up in the trash after talking to the players on the Monday before the match. Pep asked about their attitude and tactical preferences. The players talked about “the glorious history of German comebacks and the euphoria that everyone felt on other legendary nights.” Instead of dominating the center and controlling the opponent’s fast attacks, they preferred the opportunity to “go out and pounce on the opponent from the very first seconds.” It was planned to do this in the good old and well-known formation. Guardiola considered that the wishes of the players at such a moment were more important than tactics. Later, Philippe Lahm confirmed the authenticity of Perarnau’s version: “Pep called six experienced football players to his place and asked how we want to play. He agreed with our wishes. After the game, everything was presented as a failure of Guardiola’s system, but in fact the system was not his. It’s even strange that these critics didn’t notice that in that match we didn’t play Pep’s football at all.” It seems that the humiliation from Ancelotti’s Madrid shook Guardiola’s psychological balance. Good tactical work is about finding a balance between what is needed to neutralize the opponent and what the players are able/ready/want to do. That evening, Pep lost because of one extreme, and then for many years plunged into another – inventing plans that, in his opinion, are tactically flawless, but inconvenient or too unusual for his players (this is what is called the “Guardiola syndrome”).

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