Amid all of the analysis on Wednesday of Uruguay and Mexico’s romps, we missed this nugget from Bayern Munich’s Annual General Meeting: midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, so crucial for both club and country, will be out until January. Club president Uli Hoeneß confirmed the news, saying the Wednesday’s surgery “went well,” and the injury is “looking better than [they] thought.”
The 29-year-old underwent the operation to address issues persisting from an procedure on the same ankle in June. Though the surgery means Schweinsteiger’s out of Saturday’s highly anticipated match at Borussia Dortmund, the German international will be back come early January, when Bayern’s players return after winter break.
The choice to go under the knife appears to be an elective, albeit inevitable one. Schweinsteiger’s said to have played through the pain since throughout the summer, working through Germany’s World Cup qualifying campaign while getting used to club life under new head coach Pep Guardiola. But with the Nationalmannschaft’s World Cup ticket punched and Bayern four points clear atop the Bundesliga, now was the best time until after the World Cup to take clean things up. With the Bundesliga’s winter break leaving Bayern without league games between Dec. 14 and Jan. 24, Schweinsteiger only major miss will be against rival BVB.
All told, Schweinsteiger will be sidelined for matches against Einracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen, and Hamburg, in addition to Dortmund. He’ll also miss Champions League games against CSKA Moscow and Manchester City and a German Cup match at Augsburg.
With players like Philipp Lahm and Javi Martínez in Guardiola’s squad, Bayern won’t be short of talents to play in front of the defense in their 4-1-4-1. Toni Kroos, who typically starts in central midfield, can also drop into a holding role, while summer signing Thiago Alcantara is due back this week. Whereas earlier this season Bayern’s injury situation had forced Lahm’s improvised deployment in the middle, now the European champions have plenty of cover in Schweinsteiger’s absence.
Of course, Schweinsteiger’s only played four games in that defensive midfield role. Nine other times, he’s started higher, in central midfield, a place where Guardiola’s also no longer short of options. Kroos, Thomas Müller, and Mario Götze can play those roles, and when Alcantara returned, the Spanish international will also provide cover as a more attacking option.
And to think, this summer people wondered what Bayern would do with all their midfielders. With all these injuries, the answer’s been unexpected simple: Play them. As Lahm’s move from fullback shows, Bayern’s perceived glut proved insufficient, with only their captain’s superior play in his new position preventing their injury crisis from having any real effect on the field.
We’re only now starting to see Bayern’s depth paying off. With Schweinsteiger out, Guardiola can still choose from Lahm and Martínez in defensive midfield, eventually working Alcantara in toward the end of the month. When Schweinsteiger returns in January, Guardiola will be able to fully rotate his midfielders as FCB pursues another three-trophy season. He’ll have four players capable of starting in front of the defense and at least five who can occupy one of the two spots behind the striker.
Three months ago, we were scoffing at Bayern’s midfield gluttony, but having navigated their early-season crisis, their midfield buildup now looks more prescient than preposterous.