FC Bayern München's 3-1 defeat at FC BATE Borisov has arguably been the biggest upset in this season's UEFA Champions League. What was noticeable in that game, and at UEFA EURO 2012, is the importance of Bastian Schweinsteiger to both Bayern and Germany.
The large transfer fee Bayern paid for Javi Martínez this summer came as a surprise to some but it was an important signing. It was necessary to protect a defence that was vulnerable at times last season and, along with the capture of forward Mario Mandžukić, added to the squad depth.
One of Bayern's main problems last term was Schweinsteiger's absences through injury, and his form as he attempted to regain fitness was far from his peak. Luiz Gustavo and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who deputised for him, are capable and solid players, but they failed to control games the way Schweinsteiger does.
As a result Bayern lacked his drive and passion. They subsequently brought in Martínez, at a seemingly inflated cost, in a bid to create a situation similar to that with Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben. One of the magic duo has often been injured during the past few years, yet Bayern have coped before returning to their thrilling best once the forwards are united again. It was supposed to be the same with Schweinsteiger and Martínez. Both of them together is the optimum, but one of them will do.
However, in Minsk last Tuesday, in a game which most expected Bayern to win, it was proven that this is not the case. Coach Jupp Heynckes decided to give an in-form Schweinsteiger a rest as part of his rotation policy, and Bayern lost 3-1. His introduction on 77 minutes was too little too late.
It appears that Martínez is not quite Schweinsteiger's double and the Bundesliga team are still very dependent on him. With the 28-year-old restored to the starting XI alongside Martínez, Bayern cruised to a 2-0 victory against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Saturday. The 95-times capped Germany midfielder gave an unspectacular but omnipresent display.
Many people did not understand why, despite some below-par showings, Germany coach Joachim Löw kept the one-time winger in his side for so long at UEFA EURO 2012. If he was not at his best in Poland and Ukraine, Löw still seemed to think that a struggling Schweinsteiger was better than no Schweinsteiger at all.
Following Germany's semi-final exit he may have changed his thinking slightly and the Bayern man was rested for the first two FIFA World Cup qualifiers as he sought to recover some form. His immense value to both Bayern and Germany should not be underestimated, however.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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