Bastian Schweinsteiger has been placed in an unfamiliar role over the Chicago Fire’s last two games.
Head coach Veljko Paunovic has deployed his experienced German midfielder in a central defense position to start each of his side’s last two matches, something he has very little experience with throughout his long career.
The first of his starts in the back was a win over the Columbus Crew last weekend. That match saw Schweinsteiger play responsible defense as he warded off a consistent attack, helping his team keep a clean sheet. He was everywhere defensively over 90 minutes of action. He had a team leading 11 clearances and a blocked shot while not committing a single foul.
The second go around was Saturday afternoon in a 1-0 defeat to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy. Things didn’t go as well this time and his unfamiliarity with the position showed heavily as the Galaxy left Toyota Park with a victory.
His big mistakes in this match both related to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The first glaring one came at the stroke of 33 minutes. He pressed too hard as his team won the ball in the defensive midfield, leading to a misplaced back pass aimed at where he should have been. Zlatan was there instead and only a great save by Richard Sanchez kept the game scoreless.
The more critical error came on Zlatan’s goal itself. Schweinsteiger had the Swede marked in the penalty area as Ashley Cole lined up his cross. As it flew in, he was caught ball watching, mistimed his jump, and allowed the ball to fall right to Ibrahimovic’s feet for an easy goal.
That isn’t to say everything he did back there was all bad. He did have seven clearances in the penalty area and an important tackle early on. He also picked off a potential key pass early in the second half
Paunovic was noncommittal when asked after the match if a backline spot is the permanent plan going forward for Schweinsteiger.
“Depends on the game,” he said in the post match press conference. “In the second half as you see in one moment we moved Bastian in the midfield and he brought the game a different dimension.”
Schweinsteiger moving into the midfield did allow Chicago to create more going forward. They still weren’t great on the entire day, but they did take five of their seven shots in the second stanza. Two of those attempts were created by Schweinsteiger ‘s key pass.
Although a goal never came, the change in dynamic spoke to Schweinsteiger’s versatility and ability to change a game in all areas of the field, which is something his coach certainly appreciates.
“The talent that Bastian has is amazing,” Paunovic said. “One day we should build a statue here in front of Bridgeview just like Michael Jordan has his.
“We appreciate a lot how much talent he has and he can apply in to different roles on our team.”