Reviewing The Central Midfield Situation

If not earlier, at least since the departure of Mark van Bommel and the arrival of Luiz Gustavo many people have been wondering what the near future of the team’s central midfield looks like. In this piece, I’ll try to shed some light on this.

By now, you should’ve realized that Louis van Gaal’s formation (and many more follow this trend) uses two central midfielders. Others may call them defensive midfielders but most, myself included, think that this is wrong, these players contribute way too much to the offense to be called defensive-minded.

Looking at Bayern’s roster, you’ll notice that there are more central midfielders than the 3-4 you might expect: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Andreas Ottl, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Danijel Pranjic, Luiz Gustavo and Toni Kroos. And let’s not forget David Alaba who’s currently playing for Hoffenheim on loan. That makes it seven players for two positions. If you now think this oversupply is a result of terrible management, you’re wrong. All of them except Ottl are capable of playing at another position and have done this for Bayern before. Let’s take a quick look at each:

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk: The Ukrainian was a defensive midfielder for some time so his ball-winning ability is above average. That’s why he’s often used as a center back at the moment. Even then he often moves forward a bit and tries to act as a very deep-lying playmaker. I’m sure that he’d be one of the two central midfielders now if Breno played alongside Holger Badstuber.

Andreas Ottl: The home-grown player surprisingly is a part of the starting lineup these weeks and does a good job. Many expected him to leave after being loaned to Nürnberg last season but he decided to try it one more time. Ottl is a very solid player with an underrated shot but I highly doubt that this is enough to be a first-team regular for this team. A very good backup, the only question is if he wants to be a backup for the rest of his career or be an essential part of a less competitive team.

Bastian Schweinsteiger: One of the best players of the 2010 World Cup, Schweinsteiger’s development has been extraordinary. Once a flashy winger who often failed to ultimately impress the fans and media, he’s a reliable world-class central midfielder now. Due to Franck Ribery’s injury, he’s playing as an attacking midfielder at the moment. But as soon as both wingers are healthy (if that’s ever gonna be the happen), he’ll return to the position he has impressed at last year, no doubt.

Danijel Pranjic: The versatile Croatian can play as central midfielder, left-back or even as a wide midfielder (both left and right) what makes him a perfect backup for years to come. No other Bayern player has assisted more goals this season. He is currently sharing left-back duties with Luiz Gustavo, this leads me to…

Luiz Gustavo: Acquired from Hoffenheim just a few weeks ago, he prefers the midfield position but currently operates as left-back. At first, Gustavo seemed to be the van Bommel replacement but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s mainly gonna be a left-back, at least until a ‘real’ left-back arrives or some of the other central midfielders leave the club.

Toni Kroos: The 21-year old, currently injured German can play any midfield position. His technique is superb for someone of his age, he and Schweinsteiger are an outstanding pairing when it comes to passing accuracy and playmaking. Sooner or later he’s gonna find his spot in the lineup and with Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller ‘blocking’ other positions, the central midfield seems to be the best choice.

David Alaba: Still only 18 years old, the Austrian is on loan to Hoffenheim for the rest of this season. Similar to Kroos, it’s still not sure where he’s gonna play. He has played as central midfielder (obviously), left-back (mainly due to injuries) and left midfielder/winger. To prove his versatility, just have a look at Hoffenheim’s lineups of their last two matches: Against St. Pauli Alaba was their left winger (but noticeably often moved to a more central position instead of moving forward) while he played as central midfielder against Schalke. Again, just like Kroos, he’ll be a regular sooner or later, the only question is at what position.

So here’s my personal ranking for the position in case all players are healthy, if you want an official one, contact Louis van Gaal. I didn’t so take it with a grain of salt:

  1. Bastian Schweinsteiger (world-class at this position, just signed a huge contract)
  2. Toni Kroos (very talented, IMO exactly what Bayern needs at CM)
  3. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (would play there right now if he wasn’t needed as center back)
  4. Danijel Pranjic (great backup for a lot of positions, can always help out)
  5. Luiz Gustavo (he’s that low in the ranking just because he’s needed as left-back)
  6. David Alaba (he’s the future, the sooner he gets used to the pressure the better)
  7. Andreas Ottl (as I said, a very solid backup but I don’t expect him to improve anymore so I’d prefer Alaba to play unless it’s a high-pressure situation)

Feel free to agree or disagree, all of them are great central midfielders and most clubs would love to have one of them. The future certainly looks bright at one of the most important positions.

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