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Bastian Schweinsteiger: The heart has returned to Bayern's midfield

He may only have been on the bench for the first 62 minutes of the game, but it is difficult to ignore the correlation between Bastian Schweinsteiger's return to match fitness and FC Bayern's rediscovery of their infamous mojo.

Bayern's poor run of form since the winter break has been one of the most remarkable turnarounds in their recent history. Having assumed an eight point lead at the top of the table and rampaged their way through the so-called Champions League ‘Group of Death’ in the first half of the season, the German 'Rekordmeister' now find themselves one game away from an embarrassing European exit, and five points behind table leaders Dortmund.

After last week's 2-0 defeat away to Bayer Leverkusen, many at Bayern came perilously close to doing the unthinkable, and writing off the team's title chances.

If Saturday's 7-1 destruction of an admittedly hapless Hoffenheim side proved anything, however, it was that Uli Hoeness' typically bullish declaration that “at Bayern, we never give up” still rings true. For all the internal squabbling and lacklustre performances, Bayern's raw quality remains unquestionable.

Heart of quality 

At the heart of that quality, however, stands a man who is fast becoming one of the greatest midfielders in the world. A man who Karl-Heinz Rummenigge rates alongside the likes of Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. A man whose absence through injury has, not at all by chance, coincided with Bayern's regrettable recent form.

When Schweinsteiger suffered his first injury of the season against Napoli last year, there was little by way of doom mongering. Bayern's form was sufficiently impressive to last a few weeks without ‘Basti’, and besides they still had their two superstar wingers, did they not?

Only Ottmar Hitzfeld - the last man to lead Bayern to European success – declared it a severe blow, stating that the team would miss their reformed rebel midfielder far more than they'd miss the talents of Ribéry and Robben.

He was, as he almost always is, absolutely correct. Since his switch to the centre of midfield, Schweinsteiger's increased maturity and influence has seen Bayern, at their best, dominate almost every opposition that comes their way.

Without him, they are never far from the mini crises which have plagued the last two seasons. After Germany's shock friendly defeat to France recently, the same might also be applied to his influence in the national team.

Achilles' heel

Yes, there are other factors involved. In Munich, rash defensive decisions and the wavering form of their prized attackers have been costly. For Joachim Loew's team, the gap left by the injured Phillipp Lahm against France was arguably the major weakness. But for both sides, the absence of Schweinsteiger remains an Achilles' heel of season-changing proportions.

For large swathes of the game in Bremen, it was France who had control of the midfield, and it was France who went away with victory. Against Basel in the Champions League, the likes of Shaqiri and Frei were constantly exploiting the area in front of the defence; a gap which, without Schweinsteiger, Bayern were unable to plug.

Both Germany and Bayern have acceptable replacements for when Schweinsteiger is unavailable. Toni Kroos, in particular, has been in the form of his life this season. But if the France game, and Bayern's excruciatingly disappointing form in 2012 are anything to go by, not even he can replace the irreplaceable.

The apparent psychological effect that Schweinsteiger's return had on his teammates last Saturday was testimony to his importance. The roar which echoed around the Allianz Arena when he took to the field in the second half was a demonstration of how valuable he is to everyone involved with the club.

He will almost undoubtedly start on the bench against Basel tomorrow night, but if Bayern are to save their season, and if Germany are to end their long wait for another trophy, it will be with Bastian Schweinsteiger at the helm.

By Kit Holden


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