The stats that show Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger is the most influential defensive player in the world

The talismanic midfielder led die Roten to Europe’s best defensive record: his absence due to injury has exposed the weakness of the Bavarian defence.

A month ago, Bayern Munich’s defence was impenetrable. Having conceded just four goals in 18 games, keeping clean sheets against the likes of Manchester City, Villarreal, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen in the process, the Bavarians’ backline had apparently changed from laughably poor to the best in the world over the summer.

It was too good to be true.

And indeed, over the last month, Bayern’s back-four, with any combination of players, has been found to be quite ordinary. In their last six games, they have failed to keep a clean sheet, conceding nine goals in the process.

All the difference comes down to one man: Bastian Schweinsteiger. With the vice-captain manning the defensive midfield, Bayern held their opponents scoreless in 15 out of 18 games, including a run of 1147 minutes without conceding. And then, on November 2, he was stretchered off the pitch against Napoli following a brutal collision with Gokhan Inler. The diagnosis: a broken collarbone, with a return before the winter break seriously in doubt.

In that match Bayern had a preview of the struggles that were to come, as Federico Fernandez slimmed the German giants’ 3-0 lead to 3-2, and the Bundesliga side only narrowly held on for the three points. Days later, Bayern conceded to recently-promoted Augsburg – who as the German top flight’s lowest-ranked team also have the second-worst attacking record – and by then it was quite clear: the weeks to come before Christmas would be very tricky.

Without Schweinsteiger, no longer are the Bavarian giants being mentioned in the same sentence as Barcelona and Real Madrid, sides whom they were compared to not long ago.

For Bayern, things just aren’t the same in midfield – and by extension, in defence – in the absence of their vice-captain. Before his injury, the Germany international simplified work for his team-mates: because of his impeccable positional instincts and immense ball-winning and possession-maintaining qualities, the centre-backs were very rarely left to defend against an attacking player making a direct dribble towards goal.

Instead, Holger Badstuber and Daniel van Buyten typically nodded away wishful long balls, chased down through passes into the corners, and occasionally stepped up to halt a harried opponent bursting through the midfield. To their credit, the pair have been quick to react. But when put under more pressure and forced to defend against a composed, speedy attack, they have been found lacking.

To their good fortune, Bayern have sufficient fire-power in attack and have largely managed to out-score their opponents in Schweinsteiger’s absence. But as they learned in last season’s round of 16 tie with Inter, that is not enough. And as the Serie A side (and later Schalke) also discovered, a proper defence is necessary to contend in the latter stages of the Champions League. If they are to win titles this season, Schweinsteiger is the key. For the Bayern faithful, his return cannot come soon enough.

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011

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