In or out of form, shock BATE loss proves Schweinsteiger is irreplaceable at Bayern

By Tom Webber

Bayern Munich’s first experience of a competitive fixture on Belarusian soil was certainly a memorable one, but after a surprise 3-1 defeat at the hands of Champions League minnows BATE Borisov, they will be reluctant to return to Minsk again. Jupp Heynckes’ decision to rest Bastian Schweinsteiger registered his side impotent and highlighted just how indispensable he remains to the Bundesliga outfit, despite being lambasted for an average season by his standards last term.

The 2011-12 season was one that no Roten fan will ever forget, no matter how hard they try. Having been beaten to the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal by Borussia Dortmund, Bayern hearts were crushed as they then failed to lift Europe’s premier club trophy back on home soil. A trio of shortcomings drew much criticism and Schweinsteiger was the man who bore the brunt of it.

Injuries meant the innovative midfielder made his fewest amount of league appearances since his debut year for the Bavarian side back in 2002-03. With just three goals and three assists in a total of 22 appearances, he stood accused of being past his best. A constant battle for fitness, and subsequently for form, damaged Schweinsteiger’s reputation as one of the world’s top midfielders. It was a distinction that took a further knock at Euro 2012 as he was outclassed by Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi as Germany slumped to defeat in the semi-final.

At the age of 28, and with Bayern shelling out a Bundesliga-record €40m to purchase Javi Martinez from Athletic Bilbao, the question of whether the Kolbermoor-born midfielder’s best was behind him was up for serious debate. Was Schweinsteiger no longer the integral cog that made the Bavarian giants tick?

For all of those unsure as to the answer, it was laid out in front of them as die Roten succumbed to a 3-1 defeat in Minsk. The 28-year-old had already shown signs of a return to form with four goals in his previous six appearances, but it was in fact his absence from the starting line-up in Belarus that most heavily reminded fans of his influence.

Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Bavarians lacked any source of creativity in the final third. With Martinez and Luiz Gustavo playing alongside each other in the double-pivot role, playmaking responsibilities fell largely on Toni Kroos. This meant he had to spend more time on the ball, rather than looking to exploit the pockets of space in front of the defence which he has done so effectively this season. Bayern’s inability to engineer goal-scoring opportunities was ultimately their undoing, and it was here that he was missed most.

Without Schweinsteiger there was no one to orchestrate the attacks of Heynckes’ side, leaving them as a group of aimless individuals incapable of unlocking the solid, pragmatic Belarusian team. The coach only afforded the 28-year-old 13 minutes on the pitch, but Bayern instantly galvanised, looking far more eager, and able, to find a route back into the game.

The main criticism of Bayern this season has been that they are too quick to relax when they go ahead. Against BATE they did not even get going. Some things are only appreciated when they are taken away, and with Schweinsteiger on the bench on Wednesday it was clear that his role at the Bundesliga giants is by no means obsolete.

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