Munich - As FC Bayern München march on imperiously towards their 23rd Bundesliga title and the statisticians turn their attentions to the potential swathe of domestic records still up for grabs this season, one item of what would normally have been headline-making personnel news has slipped somewhat under the radar in recent weeks.
So far, so good
After three months on the sidelines in the wake of a renewed bout of surgery on his right ankle, re-entered the competitive fray in mid-February, coming off the bench for the final 25 minutes of quarter-final win at Hamburger SV.
“It felt good, of course,” he succinctly commented after the final whistle. With the German, European and world champions having performed so dominantly in his absence however, the long-time Bavarian local hero knows better than any of those inevitably speculating on his future role that he does, indeed, now face an unprecedented level of competition for a starting place which for years has been rightfully his.
Ahead of the Matchday 22 trip to Hannover 96, with Schweinsteiger having had another half-hour stint as a sub in the 4-0 league victory over SC Freiburg, head coach Pep Guardiola stressed that the 29-year-old midfielder “still needs time. He has to train, train and train some more. And, if possible, play and play”. That “if possible” was itself enough to spark a fresh bout of media hypothesising but Guardiola promptly went about clearing much of it up, selecting Schweinsteiger from the off both for the game at Hannover, where Bayern cruised to a 4-0 win, and the one that followed at home to FC Schalke 04, whom they also brushed aside to the tune of 5-1.
Heavy traffic in central midfield
In both outings, the coach moreover found a place for his vice-skipper in his favoured holding midfield role. At Hannover, he operated alongside Philipp Lahm, whose own switch from career full back to deep-lying playmaker is looking increasingly like a viable medium-term option as opposed to a stopgap solution. That unanticipated turn of events of course only serves to further lengthen the queue for a place in the middle of the park at Bayern.
In the big game of Matchday 23 against fourth-placed Schalke, however, Guardiola opted to give Schweinsteiger the sole holding berth in a 4-1-4-1 set-up, with Lahm this time on the bench. Mario Götze and Arjen Robben made up Bayern's attacking right flank against the Royal Blues, with Toni Kroos and Thiago Alcantara – both mooted as Schweinsteiger's ostensible direct rivals for a regular starting slot – forming an equally formidable partnership on the left.
Embarrassment of riches
The 101-time Germany international may not have been to the fore in an attacking capacity as the hosts set to work killing off the game as a contest well inside the space of the opening half-hour, but neither was he particularly expected to be. 105 touches of the ball and an 88 per cent completion rate on the 100 passes made in the course of his 77-minute shift was a pretty solid return for a player still feeling his way into a team much-changed in style from the one to whose ground-breaking success he made such an integral contribution last season.
Bayern's embarrassment of personnel riches has been spotlighted often enough this season and Guardiola, perhaps unsurprisingly, has proved a dab hand at distributing the game-time in a manner that has evidently not disrupted the team harmony of his all-star ensemble. A fit-again Schweinsteiger is getting his share of the action now and he has no inclination to waste time and energy ruminating on his theoretical place in the pecking order. In his own words: “I know what I'm capable of when I'm fit and healthy. That in itself gives you a certain peace of mind.”