The arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger at Manchester United was supposed to be a huge success. After all, MU were signing a 30-year-old “German football maestro” who has won the Bundesliga 8 times in over 500 appearances in his 13 years at Bayern Munich, the Champions League once, and was arriving just fresh off Germany’s World Cup triumph. What could go wrong? The 9m Euro wage on 3-yr deal seemed to be an excellent investment for United, who under Louis van Gaal would famously go on to spend over 250 million pounds on transfers in an effort to reclaim the club’s top spot in Europe.
There were even a few Paul Scholes comparisons, such as this article from Bleacher Report:”Though the likes of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind are all talented players, Schweinsteiger is certainly a cut above quality-wise, and United could still get two or three good years from the German. Schweinsteiger’s arrival adds the genuine touch of class United have lacked in central midfield since Paul Scholes retired.”
The initial returns on that investment seemed to be excellent, as jersey sales were thriving and more importantly, United were top of the Premiership after 7 games in early October with 5 wins 1 draw and 1 loss, with 12 goals for and 5 against.
The team, given the brutal season Schweinsteiger had just endured (Bundesliga, UCL final, World Cup final), rightfully eased the German midfielder into the flow, limiting his minutes by bringing him off the bench and/or subbing him for all five matches in August .
“We have made progression in the maturity of the team, the balance of the team and that’s also why Bastian Schweinsteiger is here.” manager Louis Van Gaal said in September, and the German’s performance in the 3-1 United win over Liverpool was ample support, as he racked up 74 successful passes in a dominant effort. Some newspapers, like Metro were calling him “the signing of the summer”. Three goal wins over Ipswich and Sunderland continued, and while Schweini did not score or assist any goals, the team was performing well and you could see the German engine narrative, pardon the pun, chugging along.
Turning into October, the red flags and warning signs started to appear. I watched their Champions League game against Wolfsburg, where they came away with a 2-1 win and was not impressed with MU and Schweini. Wolfsburg came out and took the game to United with impressive passing on goals like this from Daniel Caligiuri:
They outplayed United for most of the game, dominating midfield, and if it wasn’t for Andre Schürrle’s struggles to finish they could have won the match. Schweini was subbed out for Phil Jones on 72 minutes in a subdued performance, where it appeared that he could not impact the game, as the fast pace of last year’s Bundesliga runner ups was at times beyond his limits.
In the following game, Arsenal ran amok on United, as Schweini and co could not deal with the pace of Özil, Sanchez and Walcott in a 3-0 thrashing. United and Bastian rebounded with a 3-0 win over Everton, but followed it up with a lackluster 1-1 draw against CSKA, where Van Gaal decided to replace the German with Fellaini after just 45 minutes. I admittedly missed that performance, but given that we are talking about a 20 minute a game set piece threat/supersub type oy player in Fellaini (why LVG and/or United fans think he needs to start is beyond me) that was an ominous sign.
He was better in consecutive draws against City (where he lead his team with 78 passes) and Crystal Palace, but failed to play the full 90 minutes in either of those games.
Schweinsteiger’s start to November was positive, 97 passes vs CSKA (1-0 win) 98 an 115 touches vs WBA (2-0 win), as well as playing the full ninety minutes on both occassions. The international break (where he played in a 2-0 loss to France for Germany) was followed by a disappointing performance against Watford. In what would be United’s final win of 2015, the German international was extremely poor in passing, the 64 passes on 64% accuracy being well below his usual 85-90%, 90- 100 pass averages.
His first and only goal came in the 1:1 draw against Leicester City, emerging victorious from the Sumo match against the Japanese Shinji Okazaki (who, to be fair was giving away 7 cms and 5kgs to the German) on a corner before heading the ball home from close range. This was perhaps, Bastian’s best game for United, his 4 shots and 62 passes on 90% accuracy were all very impressive.
Unfortunately, the fun would end for him, in December, as an average performance and 72 minutes vs West Ham would be followed by his worst game of the season in the 3-2 thriller lost to VFL Wolfsburg. Numbers wise, it did not look so bad, as he had 50 passes with 90% accuracy and 2 shots. However, numbers do occassionally lie, as they did in this case. Take a look at the video!
It was the second goal, that really hurt: Wolfsburg Julian Draxler completely eviscerates Schweini, who seems rooted to the spot, much like Europe’s oldest tree.
Yet again, pace and quick movement seemed to completely bewilder the German playmaker on defense, as Wolfsburg quartet of Draxler, Max Kruse, Max Arnold and Vierinha ran him ragged.
In the last 2 games during the Christmas period, we continued to get a mixed performance from Schweini. I watched the otherwise excellent goalless draw vs Chelsea (which really should have been like 3-3, if not for De Gea’s saves and the post saving Courtois twice), where he put in a typical worklmanlike shift with over 100 touches and 90% accuracy, but offered very little going forward. In the 2-1 win over Swansea to kick off the new year, it was Schweini’s tackle that lead to Martial’s opening goal, perhaps his only notable contribution to defense in this season. He also had 5 aerial challenges that he won (versus his avg of 2 per game), another good sign for MU. On the other hand, he was uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, only ranking 8th on his own team with 73 touches and 81% accuracy.
So, the total tally, courtesy of Whoscored.com, so far for the highly anticipated first season of Bastian Schweinsteiger is as follows: 23 appearances (17 EPL + 6 UCL) 1609 minutes (roughly 18 full games) ONE GOAL and ZERO ASSISTS. For comparison, his history says, that in 26 games last season for Bayern, he had 5 goals and 8 assists. In 2013-14 those numbers in 30 games were 7 goals and 4 assists.
That is clearly a very different player, one, who unfortunately for United fans offers very little going forward.
But it’s the same guy, right?
Well, he appears to be the same by some numbers: His passing stats appear to be similar on the surface, 87% accuracy overall, with 58 accurate short passes to 8 inaccurate in the EPL this year on average / game, to 55 and 6 in the Bundesliga last year, as well as a 3 to 2 ratio of accurate Long balls to inaccurate long balls versus a 4 to 3 ratio this year.
The gigantic difference is in Key passes and meaningful possession, as last year Schweinsteiger averaged 1.6 key passes to only 0.5 this year, despite the avg. passes (67 to 62) and accuracy remaining the same (87.7% to 86%).
He is also losing possession at an alarming rate, 4 times worse than last year, as he has lost possession on average / game 0.4 times last year to 2 times per game this year with unsuccesful touches 0.4 to 1.5.
HE IS NO DRINKWATER!
To put that into context, using Squawka’s rankings of midfielders in the EPL this season, Schweisteiger ranks a whopping 49th out 103 qualifed players (min 13 games played) in the close company of Villa’s Carlos Sanchez, Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva, or Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater. I’m reasonably certain, that both Louis van Gaal and MU fans have expected a lot more from Schweinsteiger. Twisting the proverbial knife into MU fans, we can compare Schweini to the former MU academy product, the 25 year old Drinkwater (who, despite being at the academy since the age of 9 has been loaned out 6 times) and see the results. MU fans might want to put sharp objects at a reasonable distance from themselves! Sure, Schweini has more passes 1033 to 914, better accuracy 86 to 79%, but in terms of meaningful passes, Drinkwater crushes him, with 22 key passes to the German’s 8 and 25 chances created to 8. Oh by the way, he has 3 assists, 3 more than Schweini.
Defensively, they both have 23 interceptions, but Danny has 32 won tackles vs Bastian’s 23 and is better in the air (18 to 15 in aerial duels won). The Leicester man also bests the German in clearances 29 to 14 and blocks 8 to 3.
Did I mention that he is 5 and a half years younger and has a market value 5.5 times less than Schweini (3 mill to 18 mill) according to Transfermarkt?
Disappointment is the one word summary of the first half season of Schweinsteiger’s in the English Premier League, as he isn’t really an impact player on the pitch. Sure, he is an excellent passer, very accurate and meticulous, but as I’ve demonstrated above, those passes are rarely meaningful. Defensively, he has lost several steps and seems incapable of dealing with top level speed and quality, struggling against counterattacking teams like Arsenal, or Wolfsburg. If the EPL and soccer had a salary cap and draft system like most of American sports, I would be calling out the manager/team for wasting its limited resources on a decent, over the hill midfielder, but since this is not the case and MU are free and willing to spend their money, I’ll just say that the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger has so far been a relatively inexpensive misstep.