Bastian Schweinsteiger has been one of Ai??the few constants as Pep Guardiola has tinkered with the Bayern Munich side since taking over. His injury will leave the former Barcelona manager in some distress.

Early problems for Pep at Bayern

Early problems for Pep at Bayern

Itai??i??s no secret that Pep Guardiola is trying hard to stamp his authority on a treble winning Bayern side. Along with the personnel changes, his willingness to switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation, with a single holding midfielder, from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 has given Bayern Munich a mixed start to the 2013-14 season.

First evidence of this change in formation came during Bayernai??i??s loss to rivals Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Super Cup in the last week of July. In that game he entasked new signing Thiago Alcantara with the holding role in the single pivot. And the young Spaniard, fresh from a hattrick in the U21 European Championship Final where he played as a No.10, was clearly not upto the mark against a hard working Ilkay Gundogan who played as Dortmundai??i??s central attacking midfielder behind Robert Lewandowski (owing to the injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan).

Schweinsteiger Stakes His Claim

Pep changed his personnel for the next game, but not his formation. Bastian Schweinsteiger was deemed fit to play the Bundesliga opener against Lucien Favreai??i??s Borussia Monchengladbach, while Thiago was out of the game due to an illness. The much accomplished Schweinsteiger took to his role with ease as Gladbachai??i??s forwards rarely pressed the German while he was in possession and he was able to complete 92% of his passes according to WhoScored.com. This enabled the 4-1-4-1 formation to function, although it must be mentioned that Gladbach threatened on the counter, until the game was settled in the 69th minute by a David Alaba penalty that gave Bayern a 2-goal cushion.

Thiago Alcantara sub-par, Schweinsteiger injury a problem for Guardiola

Thiago Alcantara – Yet to impress in Bundesliga

Guardiola was partly redeemed in the way that his gameplan worked against Monchengladbach and Bastian Schweinsteiger kept his place in the side for the next Bundesliga game away to last seasonai??i??s surprise package Eintracht Frankfurt. This time around, Armin Veh side did not set his side up to defend, as both Alexander Meier and Johannes Flum started upfront in a 4-4-2 formation. Although Bayern won the match courtesy of a stunning finish from Mario Mandzukic, it wasnai??i??t the flawless performance that most Bayern fans are used to. However, credit must be given to Guardiola for bringing on Thiago Alcantara mid-way through the second half. For a while, Bayern reverted to the 4-2-3-1 formation, with Thiago dropping back to help Schweinsteiger, far more than Toni Kroos did, and that effectively helped Bayern see out the game.

The next game against Nurnberg was pretty much on expected lines. Bayern dominated possession with Bastian Schweinsteiger establishing his authority in midfield; all this while his passing statistics kept improving with every game he played. They scored the goals to win the game late on, but having had 26 shots at goal, they were bound to score sooner rather than later. What was interesting to note here, however, was that this time round, Toni Kroos came off the bench in the second half and played in a deeper role alongside Schweinsteiger. Both goals in the 2-0 win were scored after Toni Kroos came on.

After one bad result in the Super Cup against Dortmund, Guardiolaai??i??s Bayern now had consecutive victories against Borussia Monchengladbach, Frankfurt and Nurnberg to show for. However, in each game, Bayern started with one holding midfielder and ended up playing either Kroos or Alcantara, or as against Gladbach, Jan Kirchhoff, alongside Schweinsteiger in front of their centre-backs.

Brazilian midfielder Luis Gustavo was deemed surplus and put on the market. Wolfsburg gladly matched Bayernai??i??s valuation for the former Hoffenhiem player and paid 15 million Euroai??i??s for him. This meant Guardiola now had 3 players in his squad who could play in the holding midfield position ai??i?? Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara. Alcantara failed his early test in the Super Cup and Javi Martinez had been struggling with groin problems throughout the off-season and was not yet fit to start a game.

The Freiburg Game

This left Guardiola with only Bastian Schweinsteiger, the fully fit and trusted man in this position. Carrying their handful of problems, Bayern next travelled to the MAGE Solar Stadion to take on Freiburg in mid-week, in a game that had been moved forward due to Bayernai??i??s UEFA Super Cup engagement with Chelsea the following Friday.

Just like Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 2, Freiburg played with two strikers and pressed Bayern every time they tried to play the ball out from the back. Guardiola persisted with the 4-1-4-1 formation, but this time rested a bunch of stars like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and striker Mario Mandzukic. Even fullbacks David Alaba and Phillip Lahm were rested ahead of the Super Cup game against Chelsea.

This situation meant there was even more pressure on Schweinsteiger to create play from deep. He attempted the most passes throughout the game, but only 86% of them reached their intended target, his lowest of the season so far. He also was forced into making more tackles than usual as the high press from Freiburg caused Bayern to lose possession more often. Most of those passes were within his own half, while the forward passes were mostly long ones, as neither Mario Gotze nor Toni Kroos dropped back to help Schweinsteiger out of the high press that Freiburg had employed. Last year, Javi Martinez had partnered Schweinsteiger in the midfield pivot and the duo were always a pass away from each other. That had helped them navigate through a high press by playing a one-two or a simple give-and-go around an onrushing player.

Schweinsteiger's injury has left Guardiola with few options

Schweinsteiger’s injury has left Guardiola with few options

Bayern went on to drop 2 points against Freiburg after conceding an equalizer in the 87th minute; but what Pep will be worried most about is the injury that forced Schweinsteiger off in the 67th minute of the match. After going into one tackle too many, the German International had to come off. Subsequently, he missed the UEFA Super Cup game against Chelsea and was forced to withdraw from Germanyai??i??s World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Faroe Islands.

This means, when Hannover visit the Allianz Arena on the 14th of September, Pep Guardiola will have neither of Thiago Alcantara, who was injured against Nurnberg, and Javi Martinez, who underwent groin surgery last week, nor Bastian Schweinsteiger, to play in the holding role in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

The good news however is that Phillip Lahm did not do all that badly in that position against Chelsea in the Super Cup win in Prague, while David Alaba also played a similar role for Austria against Germany in Friday nightai??i??s World Cup qualifier. So even though Pepai??i??s in a bit of a muddle at the moment, a deviation back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that provides a lot more solidity and cover to Dante and Jerome Boateng may not be a very bad idea after all, especially given Bayernai??i??s injury list in midfield.

Written by THT Guest Author Andre da Cunha.

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