Guardiola vs Simeone: How Atletico Madrid ruined Pep’s final shot at Champions League glory with Bayern Munich

Guardiola Simeone Champions League GFXGOAL

For some, judging whether Pep Guardiola’s time at Bayern Munich was a success or failure can almost be boiled down to 90 minutes in May 2016.

Not the three years when he dominated German football, winning three Bundesliga titles and two DFB-Pokals.

Nor when his Bayern won the title earlier than any side in history, set the record for the Bundesliga's longest winning streak or equalled the record for most victories.

Instead, it was when Diego Simeone’s stubborn Atletico Madrid knocked them out of the Champions League semi-finals to deny Guardiola his final shot at European glory with the German giants.

Such is Bayern’s domestic dominance - with the club currently on track for its 10th successive title - that the success of their coaches can often only be measured by their achievements on the continent.

When Jupp Heynckes won the treble in his final season in charge before Guardiola took over, he not only bequeathed the best team in Europe to the Catalan, but also an achievement that would be virtually impossible to better.

In his three seasons in Bavaria, Guardiola failed to even match it.

Pep Guardiola Diego Simeone GFX
Getty/GOAL

He blamed himself for getting his tactics totally wrong in Bayern's 5-0 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the 2014 semi-finals, before injuries and a brilliant Barcelona comfortably beat Bayern at the same stage a year later.

But what was so galling about the defeat to Atletico in 2016 was that his tactics were perfect, and yet his side were denied a place in the final.

Guardiola has form for making seemingly needless tactical switches in big matches, a trait that has since impacted his chase for a first European success at Manchester City, even if he joked about “always overthinking and creating stupid changes” ahead of Tuesday's quarter-final clash with Atletico.

There was last season’s final against Chelsea, when he started without a holding midfielder; the shock defeat to Lyon the year before, when he played with a makeshift back-three; or the defeat to Liverpool in 2018, when he tried to squeeze an extra man into midfield. 

Against Atletico at the Allianz Arena, on the back of a 1-0 first-leg defeat, Bayern dominated and created a surfeit of opportunities, only to exit the tournament on the away goals rule after a 2-1 victory.

In total, Bayern had 25 shots (12 on target), had close to 70 per cent possession, made 668 passes to Atletico’s 212 and finished with an expected goals (xG) of 4.24 to their opponents' 1.4, but it still was not enough.

“We dominated our opponents for 150 minutes,” crestfallen captain Philipp Lahm said after a match which left the squad devastated.

There was no huge secret to Simeone’s masterplan. Atletico pressed incessantly, defended bravely, relied on the brilliance of goalkeeper Jan Oblak - who saved a Thomas Muller penalty in Munich - and when they had their big opportunity, Antoine Griezmann took it on the break.

“I was literally in love with this game, because my team also played very well," Simeone said post-match. "We coped with the pressure and we scored – and that was very difficult. It is unbelievable what we did.

“We try to play with our own characteristics, with the style that we are able and allowed to play and with the players we have.”

Diego Simeone quote GFX
Getty/GOAL

Six years on, and the two managers meet again for the first time since, though little has changed about Simeone’s philosophy.

Some of his inspirational figures, such as Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Saul Niguez, have gone, while Oblak has lost his best form, but the team's determination and belief remains.

Their visit to Manchester in the previous round against United was a typical cut-and-run European victory, with Renan Lodi’s header on the counterattack and a robust defensive performance enough to end the Red Devils' hopes at Old Trafford.

City will provide a step up in quality of opposition, but there is no questions from Simeone's players that they will question his strategy.

“Doubting Cholo Simeone is crazy,” midfielder Rodrigo De Paul told GOAL. “He is one of the best coaches in the world.

"He has things very clear. When things don't go well, it's everyone's business and when they go well, too. 

“In good times and bad, we all know that we have our responsibilities. We know that Simeone is the head of this team, the one who manages this ship and we are all on that ship.

"We believe a lot in what he tells us and above all else, because of the way Cholo gets his message across.”

Diego Simeone Atletico Madrid GFX
Getty/GOAL

Guardiola will have sat down with his coaches to construct a plan and find a weak point in the Atletico defence, but there will not be many in a side that has conceded just four goals in its last nine matches. 

But the ex-Barcelona boss dismissed suggestions that the match would be a clash of styles, between Guardiola’s attacking football and Simeone’s 'anti-football'.

“I’m not going to talk one second about this stupid debate,” the City boss said. “Everyone tries to win the game and if they win they are right, if we win we are right.

Article continues below

“After watching Atletico there is a misconception about the way he (Simeone) plays. It's more offensive than people believe. He doesn't want to take a risk in the build-up, but after they have quality in the final third.”

Still, it is likely that City will dominate possession across both legs of the tie, but as they try to find a way through without an orthodox striker, there is every reason to believe it will be difficult for Guardiola again.

Simeone tarnished Pep’s reputation at Bayern, now he has got a shot at doing it all over again at City.