The transfers of both Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger would have a marked effect on most teams in the world. Alankrith Shankar looks at how Pep and his side will cope with the loss of the duo within the span of 12 months.
July 13th 2014 – Germany v Argentina, the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The ever efficient German side was facing an Argentina team who banked heavily on Messi and his magic. This German side had 7 players in the squad who were regulars of FC Bayern Munich. Majority of these 7 members played crucial roles in the starting line-up for Germany throughout the World Cup, especially in midfield led by then vice-captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger and young Toni Kroos. The 2 had formed a formidable partnership in the World Cup and also at club level. Their chemistry was unbelievable, which made people think about why Bayern would even contemplate selling Kroos when he fits Pep’s system. Not even a month after Germany had won the world cup, news broke out that the German domestic champions had agreed a 25M deal with Real Madrid for the transfer of Toni Kroos.
It was definitely not a shocker for many Bayern fans. Most were actually expecting the sale to happen but were scared of how the team would cope without Toni. Thiago was the player to whom eyes turned to, but sadly he remained injured till early 2015. And now, 1 year since that final, Bayern have lost the other midfielder from that line-up. The experienced legs of Bastian Schweinsteiger will now play in the fields of England, for the Red Devils. Opinions on Bayern’s year without Kroos have very much been divided, but most Bayern fans would agree that Kroos wasn’t missed in the line-up except for when Bayern had the major injury crisis in the latter half of the season. But the timing was almost perfect with Thiago returning so that the impact wasn’t felt. Maybe the team could have had a better Champions League outing or a Pokal run if Kroos was in the squad. Surely the extra midfielder would have been a blessing for squad depth issues, but this circumstance was not expected. No one would have expected so many injured players in the last 3 months of the season. So maybe Kroos would have been an excess to needs, but that is all speculative. But with the loss of Bastian, the question does arise, whether the club can cope with the loss of 2 talented midfielders.
This question can be answered to an extent by taking the start of 2014-15 season as an example. Bayern had just sold Kroos while Bastian Schweinsteiger was ruled out injured for another good 2-3 months, due to a rash challenge while playing a pre-season game in the United States against the MLS All Stars side. The incident had left Pep Guardiola furious, that he went to the extent of not shaking the MLS All Stars manager’s hand after the game. Fast forward by 12 months and we find Pep in a similar situation, only difference being that this time, Bastian won’t be returning to Pep’s plans in 2-3 months’ time. But if we see how the club’s hierarchy managed the situation in the transfer market last summer, by signing Xabi Alonso, fans have enough confidence that the team would ride out the storm with very less discomfort. Till Bastian made his comeback to the first team, Pep’s regular central midfield combination was Lahm-Xabi. There were instances where Alaba and Rode played in midfield too. The performances were very convincing as well, the 7-0 thrashing of AS Roma in the Champions League gave the fans nothing to worry about in the midfield and attacking departments, though that game did raise questions about Pep’s tactics against counter attacks. The general atmosphere surrounding the team was as good as it could get.
Even when Bastian made his comeback to the squad, people were looking forward to the Xabi-Schweini combination but it was sort of an anti-climax as it resulted in mostly bad results for the team. During the period Lahm was ruled out, Pep didn’t have much of a choice but to use the combination, but the results were not as convincing. The thrashing from Wolfsburg and the loss to Monchengladbach came in this period. When Pep started one of the two veterans, the team started to produce better results like the annihilation of Hamburg on Valentine’s weekend. So the choice was clear for the manager once the club captain made his return from injury. One of the 2 veterans would partner Lahm in the central role and Xabi Alonso seemed like the more comfortable choice from a viewer’s point of view as he received the nod ahead of the German on various occasions.
Truth be told, both Xabi and Schweinsteiger are very similar players and in retrospect it comes as little shock that the midfield combo of the two veterans didn’t work out. With both players in the twilight of their careers, it made sense for Pep to rotate between the 2 players for the rest of the season. But Bastian who is still only 30, with another good 2 years in him, would prefer more regular game time and it comes as no surprise that he wanted to move away to a team which guaranteed it.
So how does Pep now cope with the permanent loss of Schweinsteiger? We’ve already seen that Pep has a way to deal with the loss of both Kroos and Bastian but with the Fusballgott in the side, there was a choice of resting Xabi for crucial fixtures and also there was another experienced head in the squad who could lead the midfield when in the 11. But now, there is a void in that position. The current suitors are Sebastian Rode who has been exceptional super sub and squad player last season, but one doesn’t feel he has what it takes to replace a player like Bastian. The other obvious choice in the current squad is the young Dane who has been recalled from his loan at Augsburg. Yes, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. ESPN felt that the Dane would be a direct replacement for Bastian in 2-3 seasons time after they saw him run the show in the last Champions League group stage fixture when Pep fielded a weaker side as the Germans had already qualified as group winners. But then again, he lacks the experience and it is too soon for him to take such a big step. Maybe a bigger squad role can prep him to be an integral member of the team.
So here is the third and obvious choice. The transfer market. It is no secret that Bayern are well backed financially and the players signed on most occasions are top quality. Recent claims in the media are that the German champions are looking at Arturo Vidal of Juventus. The Chilean is a perfect replacement for Bastian. Experienced in Europe along with Bundesliga experience, he is in the prime of his career too as he is only 28. With Xabi’s contract running out, Vidal could be the next core central midfielder after the Spaniard departs at the end of the season (most likely). Along with Hojbjerg, Kimmich, Rode and Alaba, the CM options are quite a few in number. IF the Bayern fitness team manages to keep majority of the players fit through the season, there isn’t much of a doubt on how Bayern will fare without Bastian, provided the replacement for the German captain is signed. As of now, all the fingers point at Vidal, but nothing is yet set in stone, so squad depth is still an issue but when the ink is dry on the paper, we can see a strong midfield line up again at Bayern. One which is probably not stronger but very much on an equal level with the teams in the previous 2 seasons. Interesting times ahead at the club. The transfer window has never been so ever crucial for the club in recent times.
Written by Alankrith Shankar