The Butterfly Effect – What is the fallout of Schweinsteiger’s absence?

 

While Germany’s Rekordmeister have traditionally rolled on when first choice players were out, the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger in the middle of the park could well prove to be devastating.

Philipp Lahm may be the captain; Manuel Neuer may be the best in the world protecting  the ol’ onion bag; „Robbery“ may be the globe’s most electrifying duo with the ball at their feet; Mario Gómez may be a chance converting god amongst men; and Thomas Müller may be the team’s great hope for the future, but Bastian Schweinsteiger is the heart of Bayern München.

And with him out of the lineup until 2012, Bayern could find themselves in dire straits.

For proof, look no further than the game in which Schweinsteiger’s absence had the biggest impact.

In the first half of November 2nd’s Champions League clash, Bayern bossed Napoli in the Allianz Arena, retaining possession with ease, spraying passes all around the pitch and seeing chances created at will—culminating in a first half hat trick for the opportunistic Gómez. The Bavarians went into the break up 3-1, the only blemish coming via a free kick and the head of Federico Fernández.

Shortly after the restart however Schweinsteiger went down and the proverbial wheels came off.

Schweinsteiger’s central midfield partner, Luiz Gustavo and—his replacement—Anatoliy Tymoschuk could not sustain their club’s dominance of the middle of the park. They had trouble retaining possession; their passing was far from crisp, far from tidy; and the pair lost 50-50 balls with alarming regularity. The connection between the defence and the attack was severed and Bayern, seemingly impenetrable in the first half, were finally vulnerable.

Napoli sensed the lack of cohesion and pressed. While Bayern’s defenders held, they often resorted to fouls to keep the Italians at bay, leading to another set piece goal courtesy of  Fernández’s aerial prowess in the 79th minute.

Bayern kept the chances from the run of play to a minimum though, and closed out the game for a shaky 3-2 result.

Bayern’s passing & possession game with Schweinsteiger vs. Nürnberg (before Napoli match)

Similar symptoms ailed Bayern four days later, this time in a visit to Bundesliga minnows and Bavarian neighbors FC Augsburg.

Despite finding themselves with a 2-0 lead in the 28th minute owing to a converted corner kick and a dash of Ribéry’s class, Bayern did not boss the game as clear superiors should from there on out. Tymoschuk and Schweinsteiger replacement du jour, David Alaba kept up the disjointed midfield performance of post-injury Napoli. The defence was again isolated from the attack; passing was far from precise; 50-50 balls largely went the way of the hosts; and little fouls again became a go-to defensive tactic after Augsburg grabbed a goal back in the 59th. Bayern would hand Augsburg a golden opportunity to tie late on, but Manuel Neuer took charge and preserved the 2-1 score line, saving his club all three points.

While Bayern perhaps could be excused for performing unconvincingly after the sudden disappearance of their midfield anchor against Napoli, the chasm in talent between them and Augsburg is immeasurably vast—even without their iconic No.31, Bayern should have wiped the proverbial floor with their regional neighbors.

So far, the Schweini-less Bayern looks a far cry from the high flying side that took to Bundesliga and Europe like gangbusters to start the campaign. No combination of Alaba, Gustavo and Tymoschuk has looked the part. And let’s be honest, Augsburg is no worry for even mid table German sides. If manager Jupp Heynckes hasn’t found a cure over the international break, with the attack and defence operating on completely different wavelengths, the closeout to the year may be catastrophic.

Bayern’s passing & possession without Schweinsteiger vs. Augsburg, (after Napoli), a notable drop off.

In Germany, Bayern face Bundesliga challengers Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen, not to mention the quality, but streaky VfB Stuttgart and Köln. All four have the ability to make Bayern pay for midfield miscues on their day. Hell, if they put on the same show as screened in Augsburg, even the other side standing between Bayern and the holiday break, Mainz, can give the München men something to worry about.

With four teams within six points of Bayern atop the standings, these next four games without the stability Schweinsteiger brings to midfield can have huge implications in the title race.

And if that wasn’t enough, Bayern still need to snatch a point from their remaining two Champions League group stage games against Villareal and Manchester City before we all hang new calendars. Like the high caliber domestic competition that awaits, the Spanish and English challengers, too can pose a threat to Bayern’s championship hopes—these being the chance to hoist the hallowed Champions League trophy at their own Allianz Arena come May.

While we’re at it—and why not, really—there is also the matter of a DFB-Pokal date with VfL Bochum on the last match day of the year. Lose there, and another prize falls out of reach.

While betting the mortgage on it would be grounds for institutionalization, if Heynckes’ troops don’t get their act together in midfield, this year ending stretch of eight games has the potential see three separate championship dreams dissipate into the München air along with 2011.

Heynckes is confident club ambitions remain on track. Bayern faithful and interested observers, not so much.

If only the steady presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger could keep Bayern and its hopes alive…

8 Comments

  1. Agreed. The strongest case for letting Kroos play the Schweinsteiger role were the two Germany games. He was brilliant in both playing behind Götze-Özil (against Ukraine) and Podolski – Özil – Müller (against the Dutch).

    With Tymoshuk out, Gustavo would be the logical choice next to Kroos. Even in the CL, where Tymoshuk is not suspended, I would rather want to see Gustavo.

    This all assumes that Robben returns. Even if he does not Alaba up front seems to be a better choice, possibly interchanging places with Müller.

  2. Robben was out injured, but it seems he’ll be making his return to the XI today.

    Bayern indeed plays out of a 4-2-3-1, and I second your proposed midfield. Tymo’s out with a red card suspension, however. I reckon he and Kroos would make a solid partnership in front of the defence when he is reinstated though.

    It’ll be interesting to see who Heynckes rolls Bayern out with, and where. As I said in reply to Quazi above, Jupp likes Kroos in a more advanced role, so while it seems obvious to us that No.39 slides back, the boss may not see it that way.

  3. The return of Robben should theoretically give Bayern a bit of breathing room, especially if Kroos gets dropped into the defensive midfield. Jupp rather prefers him up high, though. It’ll be interesting to see how they line up today.

    Also, I’m inclined to agree with you, 120 minutes is quite a small sample size; and as I noted, Heynckes had the international break to make changes. I’m not saying Bayern fans ought be mashing the panic button, rather just suggesting that without proper adjustment, a spot [or, however unlikely, a tonne depending on how the adjusting goes] of trouble may be ahead.

    Thank you for the kindness!

  4. Is Robben out injured? If not then surely putting Kroos into the midfield
    (im not 100% sure on Bayern’s formation but don’t they play a 4 2 3 1 variant? Muller behind Gomez with Robben and Ribery out wide, Kroos and Timoshuck in the midfield, Timoshuck anchoring and Kroos being the distributor)
    would alleviate Bayern’s problems in holding onto possession. As for winning those 50-50s, surely timoshuck should be getting stuck in.

  5. Well for me the return of Robben might compensate for the loss of Schweinsteiger. It’s another butterfly affect. As I see it, Robben will take up his customary slot on the right moving Muller into the center where he is more adept and hence Toni Kroos, the man who should be entrusted with the task of deputising for Schweini, will move into central midfield.

    While I agree with you Nik on the fact that Schweinsteiger’s loss may have implications to the results that Bayern achieve until the winter break I feel that we should use more than just 120 minutes of football to draw our conclusions upon, especially since Bayern played exceptionally well for at least 45 of those minutes (first half Augsburg).

    Good article though! 🙂

  6. Some teams never manage to adapt around the loss of such a key players and suffer as a result. Other teams go on seamlessly. Bayern falls somewhere in the middle. In my opinion they have always relied on one or two players more than others in the past but nowadays the team is much more balanced and I think that ensures a quicker transition in such a scenario.

    Might not be immediate but I think they’ll adapt reasonably well until his return.

  7. I’ve enjoyed your work, Herrmann, and I must applaud this considerably. Highly excellent. One point: playing badly and still winning is the mark of champions (and Germans, as the English phrase states). This is Bayern’s year, by all means.

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