Pep Guardiola was delighted to see his Bayern Munich side respond to criticism of their style of play with a 3-0 win against CSKA Moscow in his first Champions League game in charge of the club.
Goals by leftback David Alaba, striker Mario Mandzukic and Dutch winger Arjen Robben sealed a convincing win as the defending champions opened their Group D campaign at Munich’s Allianz Arena with the perfect riposte to suggestions their game had been “lackluster.”
After winning 14 titles in four years at Barcelona — including the 2009 and 2011 Champions League titles — Guardiola has been the center of much hype since his arrival in Bavaria. Former manager Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to the treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League last season and Guardiola has been under pressure to match that success since taking charge in June.
After Bayern beat Hannover 96 2-0 on Saturday, director of sport Matthias Sammer accused Guardiola’s team of playing “lackluster football,” but the champions responded with a convincing display.
“I speak to Matthias on a daily basis and he has given me a lot of support since my arrival,” the Spaniard said, dismissing suggestions of any problem with Sammer. “We talk all the time, we talk about the team, we talk tactics, even about the pasta and the fish we had for lunch. There’s nothing we wouldn’t talk about.”
Austria’s Alaba was outstanding throughout, hitting a pin-point free-kick for the opening goal, then playing a deft chip over the CSKA defence for Robben to slam home Bayern’s third.
The Dutchman said the team had responded to Sammer’s comments, but knew they had been below-par going into Tuesday’s match.
“We know when we play well or when we don’t and we were certainly lacking aggression last Saturday [against Hannover],” Robben said.
Having scored the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium in May’s Champions League final in London, Robben said that talk of the Bavarians reaching their fourth final in five years is premature.
“We have to take things step by step, get through the group stage and take it from there,” the 29-year-old said. “We need to focus on ourselves and improve, it’s important to be on your game next spring when the decisive matches are played.”
This was arguably Bayern’s most polished performance under Guardiola, even with vice captain Bastian Schweinsteiger starting on the bench as he recovers from an ankle strain.
“The team picked up tonight were they left off after the game against Dortmund at Wembley,” contented chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.
Bayern needed just four minutes to get on the scoresheet when Alaba floated a beautiful free-kick over the CSKA wall and never looked back against the hardworking Russian champions.
With a taxing trip to fellow Champions League side Schalke 04 up next on Saturday evening in the Bundesliga, Guardiola was happy with the manner of the win as much as the margin.
“We played well, we controlled the game with our pressing and I am proud of the players,” Guardiola said. “People think it’ll be easy for us this year having won the title last season, but that’s not how it is,” he said.