I can’t help it. After reading hundreds of takes about Pep Guardiola – from the “Bald Fraud” to the “Inventor of Modern Football”, and many other more reasonable pieces / threads in between – I must give mine. First, and as a disclaimer, I have to link to this, an old piece I wrote for espnfc which is now only found in this blog that copied verbatim. The short version: I am a Madridista from birth, I have seen both the Guardiola player and the Guardiola coach defeat my team quite a few times, and therefore I should hate Guardiola with all my might, but I can’t.
Of course, since I wrote that piece many things have happened: he took over Bayern and spent trillions to dominate Germany, but failed miserably in the Champions League, and then moved to Manchester City, where he spent billions – I’m following Dr Evil’s wealth logic here, of course – to “change how football is played in Britain”, to paraphrase one of his fanboys in the English media, but again failing to make his mark on the Champions League. On top of that, he’s sided with the secessionists in Catalonia, which without getting into the details of an endless discussion, can’t be a positive in my eyes.
That all said, my assessment of that old espnfc piece hasn’t changed much. I still believe he’s an outstanding coach that has brought a lot of fun changes to today’s game, although he makes mistakes like every other top coach, in some cases taking an unexpectedly conservative approach – De Bruyne and Sane anybody? – that does not fit with his general footballing philosophy. He has starred in shocking moments of hypocrisy, such as when he complained about salaries paid by other clubs, but tell me one coach that hasn’t had a few of those moments. Absolute coherence in every public statement is an impossibility nowadays, so whenever he says anything preposterous I just laugh it off, similarly to how I take Jose Mourinho.
We’re indeed fortunate to have Guardiola in the game, to share the same football era with him. We’ve seen him apply his model in a tireless manner, with determination, with very strict criteria in his signings, with tons of money, of course. Yes, he’s made mistakes hiring some of those players or betting on others that weren’t up to par. Of course, it’s evident that the Champions League has become a point of obsession in his head, and that his decisions in some matches are influenced by the brutal defeats he’s suffered in the last few seasons – may I remind him of a 5-0 loss on aggregate vs Real Madrid while coaching a loaded Bayern side? And surely having Leo Messi on his side helped him to put together that Barcelona side, but he found the right position for the Argentinean and gave him the car keys over other talented players.
He’s indeed a positive in any tournament, a major reinforcement for any club and a lover of the game like many of us. He’s incredibly talented and a fierce hard-worker, and indeed one of the most influential coaches of all time.
All that said, I have to admit that his public persona has become less and less palatable for me, up to a point where he’s become the perfect villain. I love to watch him lose. Absolutely luv it. I loved seeing his disappointment after his over-the-top celebration so much, to such an extent, that I felt something terrible is going to happen to my team, because so much joy over someone’s unhappiness can only bring an unforgettable karma compensation. I’m still scared as I write these lines.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. New gimmick: we’ll highlight must-watch matches in red font, and no, they’re not Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico ones, at least this week.
- Alavés (8th) vs Valladolid (18th): 2. (Fri, 21:00)
I wrote the prediction after the match was over, without seeing the result. This is the archetypal match in which a humble team that has overachieved lends a hand to a fellow struggler just in case the favour can be returned in the future. Eventually they drew level, which is not good enough for Valladolid, and leaves Alaves in the mid table position they will finish in.
- Celta (17th) vs Girona (14th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
This is a must watch because a) Another loss can get Girona into a world of trouble, as they’re only three points above the first relegation spot; b) Iago Aspas took a day off at the Wanda, but must come back on Saturday and resume his mission to save Celta and c) Both teams are far more entertaining than their positions on the table, so this should be an open contest with plenty of chances. That said, Girona’s offence is almost uniquely limited to Stuani and Portu, while the in-form Aspas gets plenty of Celta players involved through his passing and movement. This is a huge test for coach Eusebio, who once could have managed Barcelona and now can’t afford two unsuccessful stints in a row.
- Eibar (13th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): X. (Sat, 16:15)
If Celta vs Girona is a must watch, this could bore you to death. Eibar playing for nothing vs the Costa-less Atletico playing for even less. Perhaps we’ll be able to see some minutes of Atleti’s youth team players, but Simeone is already thinking about next season and especially about the list of players that must go.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Another must watch, in this case because a) the loser can say goodbye to LaLiga, b) because Rayo with Jemez is always fun to watch, even in their most reckless versions and c) because Huesca have played much better than their ranking suggests, especially during the second half of the season, and have a handful of players that will want to look good to find another LaLiga team in the summer. With all the mental constraints that Jemez generates when I see him on the sidelines, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Sociedad (10th): 2. (Sat- 20:45)
If the title race were alive, this could be a fun one. However it’s the Champions League title what concerns Barcelona – and another successful Messi run will only foster the Guardiola critics and their biased arguments. In this match, we run the risk of watching Aleña’s girlfriend play for a few minutes, as Valverde will rest his starting eleven and some of the bench as well. Phil was really concerned that this altered the competition last week. He will probably support Valverde’s b-side now 😉
I see the visitors winning at the Camp Nou, believe me.
- Levante (16th) vs Espanyol (12th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
Sitting comfortably in midtable, not a care in the world for any of these two, who have done just fine this season. Jose Luis Morales will have a field day with Espanyol’s slow fullbacks.
- Getafe (5th) vs Sevilla (4th): 1. (Sun- 14:00)
Must watch indeed! A Champions League spot at stake, two very similar teams in terms of tactical intelligence and physical intensity, and the opportunity to open a gap of a few points over Valencia, a team both sides detest. The talent is on the visitors’ side, but right after the mega-intense Sevilla derby, this looks like a classic letdown match for Sevilla. After such an exhausting display, they’re bound to show some tiredness, and Getafe know well how to punish tired sides. Molina on the scoresheet.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Athletic de Bilbao (7th): X. (Sun – 16:15)
Similarly to the Camp Nou match, in other circumstances this would be a must, but another instance of Zidane’s end of season audition can’t be that entertaining anymore. Not even the rumours around Real Madrid’s signings are fun… We may see one of the last performances by some iconic Bernabeu players on Sunday, that’s the only reason I can think of to watch this one. Well, that and Athletic, who are always an interesting side at the Bernabeu. I can imagine a draw with a couple of goals for each side. Isco will shine… for about ten minutes.
- Villarreal (15th) vs Leganés (11th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Finally freed of their Europa League adventure, Villarreal can focus on LaLiga. Their win in Girona was huge, as it took them out of the relegation spots and just one point behind the Catalans. This column has supported the disappointing hosts for most of the season, so why quit now? Leganes couldn’t care less at this stage of the season.
- Betis (9th) vs Valencia (6th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Sunday’s night match is an absolute must, as two styles meet: possession vs counterattack, inverted wingers vs classic ones, class and flair vs clash and physicality. It may not be a match with many goals, but the tactical aspects of the match will be extremely interesting. I’m extremely tempted to favour Valencia, but I’m scared to pull the trigger, even though Guedes is indeed back. Betis must recover from their derby defeat, so I expect a focused side that will win 1-0.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 113/270 (41%)
- Alavés (8th) vs Valladolid (18th):
- Celta (17th) vs Girona (14th):
- Eibar (13th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Huesca (20th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Sociedad (10th):
- Levante (16th) vs Espanyol (12th):
- Getafe (5th) vs Sevilla (4th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Athletic de Bilbao (7th):
- Villarreal (15th) vs Leganés (11th):
- Betis (9th) vs Valencia (6th):