Replacing Bastian Schweinsteiger not a problem for Bayern Munich
“It was a big honour for me to be his manager,” Pep Guardiola said following Bastian Schweinsteiger’s move to Manchester United. Given the Bayern Munich boss has had the chance to manage the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Arjen Robben, among others, in his career, it’s certainly glowing praise for the midfielder.
However, Guardiola will be forced to prepare his team for the upcoming campaign without the 30-year-old as Bayern look to secure their 4th consecutive Bundesliga title.
Despite making just 15 league starts last season, Schweinsteiger’s absence will surely be felt. The Germany international averaged a highly respectable 87.7% pass success rate from his 66.1 passes per game and it’s his ball retention that kept Bayern ticking over – when he played – and helped the Bavarian giants during their recent period of dominance following Borussia Dortmund’s spell as Germany’s top team. The question now is who Bayern have to replace the experienced midfielder.
Joshua Kimmich has signed from VfB Stuttgart, but at 20; he’s unlikely to come straight into the starting XI. Three of the logical stand-ins are Thiago Alcantara, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Sebastian Rode.
The former was signed from Barcelona two years ago at Guardiola’s request while the latter – as noted in the critically acclaimed ‘Pep Confidential’ – is thought of extremely highly by the Spanish manager. Rode, meanwhile, was signed by the current manager and has impressed when handed the opportunity to do so, winning the WhoScored man of the match award in 1 of his 5 league starts in midfield.
While Hojbjerg failed to impose himself for Denmark at the recent European U-21 Championship, the general consensus is that he is viewed as the long-term successor to Schweinsteiger’s throne. The duo are similar, both in style of play and attributes. While the Dane isn’t of the same ability as Schweinsteiger, at 19 years of age, Hojbjerg has ample time to improve his game and can potentially reach a similar level to his former teammate with the right management.
The Denmark international exhibited his already impressive ability during a loan spell with Augsburg in the second half of last season, incidentally providing the assist for Raul Bobadilla’s winner in a 1-0 victory at Bayern back in May. His WhoScored rating was a respectable 7.02 at Augsburg but, when factoring in starts only – 6 of Hojbjerg’s 16 league appearances for Augsburg were from the bench – that figure rises to 7.28.
He clearly has the attributes to succeed Schweinsteiger in the deep-lying playmaker role at Bayern, though is very much a diamond in the rough and may well be sent out on loan again next season.
Guardiola though – as highlighted in his development of Sergio Busquets – is capable of aiding highly-rated midfielders improve their game to realise their potential. Similar could happen at Bayern now that Schweinsteiger has left and it’s reasonable to suggest that Hojbjerg’s growth could perhaps have been stunted had the German remained at the club.
Hojbjerg is unlikely to get an easy ride into a regular starting berth upon his return to Bayern, however. In his 5 league starts in the Bayern midfield last season, Rode gained a WhoScored rating of 7.47. A pass success rate of 87.3% was also not to be scoffed at in this position and only accentuates his WhoScored strength of ‘passing’.
Furthermore, Guardiola is evidently a fan of the German, previously stating: “I don’t know how long I will be the manager of Bayern Munich, but as long as I am here, Sebastian Rode will always be here.”
This stands him in good stead and given how frequently Guardiola chops and changes his formation depending on the opposition, it’s feasible to think that Rode will gain more minutes in the upcoming campaign. However, there is a chance that the 24-year-old could become a utility performer under the Spaniard, with 4 of his 10 starts in the Bundesliga and Champions League coming at right-back.
However, Guardiola fielded a 3-man defence on 10 different occasions in last season’s Bundesliga, so it’s possible that Rode will gain further playing time in his favoured midfield position than in defence.
Suggestions that Thiago could fill the void in midfield, however, are perhaps wide of the mark. The Spain international is better suited in a more advanced role, playing the final pass for his attacking teammates, rather than retaining possession in a deeper position. Either way, Bayern need not spend big this summer in order to secure a Schweinsteiger replacement.
Granted, his departure comes as a blow for Bayern in their bid to maintain their supremacy in Germany, but Guardiola has a number of capable performers to step into his place. The man perhaps most likely to do so in the interim, while the aforementioned trio develop, could yet be David Alaba.
With Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Gianluca Gaudino also capable of performing a similar role to that of Schweinsteiger, Guardiola isn’t short of options in midfield. Furthermore, Javi Martinez is another option for Guardiola though the Spain international is expected to be deployed in defence rather than midfield following his return to full fitness.
Hojbjerg and Rode, though, are perhaps the stand out candidates in the long term to succeed the former fan favourite, while Thiago, who may be more accustomed to a more advanced role, is able to play in a similar position, despite offering a different threat given his ability to carry possession forward with aplomb.
Sentimentally, Schweinsteiger’s exit pulls on the heart strings, but from a football perspective; Bayern needn’t worry themselves too much in the wake of his exit from the Allianz Arena.