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.
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.
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…
Latest posts by Nicklas Hermann (see all)
- Bayer Leverkusen’s Quiet Coup – The signing of Nürnberg’s Philipp Wollscheid - December 1, 2011
- Hertha Berlin 3 – 3 Bayer Leverkusen: Eren Derdiyok and how to singlehandedly salvage points - November 29, 2011
- Match Day 14 Predictions at Bargain Rates – A Black Friday Special! - November 25, 2011