Kind of early on my end, but I hope some of my friends from the other side of the globe are still awake. Over the past 2 seasons, one of the biggest questions facing the clubs has been where Toni Kroos will fit in. And, more specifically, can he and Bastian Schweinstieger co-exist in the midfield? Some Bayern fans have been calling for it all year, and it was with Bastian + Kroos on the field that the club scored this winning goal this past weekend. But other supporters remember the 2010-2011 season, where the pairing was tried unsuccessfully, and where we didn't have a lot of stopping power in the midfield in general.
So the question is not so much "where does Kroos fit it," as much as it is "do we need a defensive-minded, tough-tackling player in our midfield. In most formations, there will be 5 guys who are on the field primarily to stop the other team from scoring: a 'keeper, a pair of CBs, and a pair of fullbacks. These guys will occasionally get forward to threaten, but they're mainly our "back line," there to defend.
This leaves us with 6 other guys who are playing above / higher than the back line. They can be arranged in any order - 3-2-1 (in a pyramid with a striker at the point), 2-3-1 (our current formation - two CDMs), 4-2 (two CDMs, two-deep-lying wings, two strikers), or even a 1-4-1 (the national team has experimented with this, though to be honest it usually plays much like a 2-3-1). The particular formation doesn't matter so much for the purposes of this discussion - the important thing is that there are 6 spots, and we have 7 excellent, supremely talented offensive players - in no particular order:
This doesn't count Tymo, Gustavo, Petersen, or Pranjic - no offense to those guys, but they're all a rung below (at least) these above 7 as far as truly threatening offensive skills.
OK, so Olic (whatever his positive attributes) doesn't make the starting line-up. Doesn't matter whether we agree with it, that seems to be the way JH wants it. So, the other 6 could fit nicely into those 6 above-the-defense spots. You could run a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-1-4-1-, but you could definitely find a way to get all those guys involved. In that configuration, we'd have possibly the best combination of middies and forwards in the game: Mueller, Bastian, Robbery, Gomez, and Kroos. Everyone on that list is either a brilliant dribbler, a dangerous scorer, a visionary passer who can see the field, a sharp tactician who always make the right move to carve up the defense, or some combination of the above. The problem is that none of them is truly a defensive specialist. Bastian is the closest - he's a decent tackler and not afraid to dive into a challenge, and you could point to some instances where he made a hard tackle to win the ball. And Ribery, believe it or not, has actually made decent defensive plays a few times over the past few seasons with his quickness and tenacity. But none of the listed players are the type of true ball-winning, ball-busting DM that breaks up opponents attacks and makes other team's middies and forwards think twice when they take control of the ball.
So that's where a guy like Gustavo comes in. Whatever his short-comings, and understanding that he's inconsistent, Goose is a hard tackler and knows how to short-circuit the other side's build-up play. Tymo has a touch of this, and van Bommel used to be the man, but I'd say Goose is the best we have now. Therefore, the question is: do we sacrifice one of those 6 excellent offensive talents (could be anyone, but would likely end up being Kroos) for the tackling and ball-winning power of someone like Gustavo? Or do we just try to get our most skilled XI on the field, and if none of the middies are great defenders, we rely on the back line to keep the other team out of the goal?
It's a very tough question, and perhaps the answer would differ depending on the circumstances. It's worth noting, though, that Sergio Busquets is in the Barcelona starting line-up more often than not. Think about it - when everyone is healthy, Barca has the following as their "above the defense" middie/forward skill guys:
All those guys are MUCH more skilled, as far as touch on the ball, shooting ability, and general offensive talent than Sergio. And yet he often gets the start, even on one of the most pass-happy, offensive minded teams in the world, just because they know they need someone to do the dirty work.
I'd be interested to hear what everyone thinks: can the long-awaiting Schweini-Kroos duo work in the midfield? Or does the lack of a defensive stopper at CM leave us too exposed? Complete the poll and/or let us know in the comments.
Dortmund preview coming tonight. Thanks for reading.