The Chicago Fire keep winning and Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to be at the heart of the team’s success.
The German played a new role in the Fire 2-1 win Saturday at the New England Revolution. Instead of his typical central midfield spot, Schweinsteiger lined up between the two central defenders, Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira, as a sweeper or libero.
At its base, a sweeper was initially known as a last line of defense, someone who would clean up any attacks that got past other defenders. However, as the position evolved it started to be used more as a tool to create possession and attack play.
Schweinsteiger played this role for most of the match on Saturday. He had defensive responsibilities, largely marking New England striker Kei Kamara, but also started most of the Fire’s build up play. He became the point man who started and controlled things when the Fire were in possession.
In the Wikipedia entry for sweeper, the first player named is Franz Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer, who finished his career with the New York Cosmos in 1983, helped Germany win the 1974 World Cup and is widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation. He was one of the key players in changing the sweeper position from a solely defensive role into one that has attacking responsibilities as well.
Beckenbauer retired before Schweinsteiger was born so Schweinsteiger never got to see him play live, but has seen some old videos of him on TV. When asked about playing Beckenbauer’s position, Schweinsteiger said it’s a “big honor,” but hadn’t thought about that previously.
“I can’t really speak about it because I didn’t know exactly,” Schweinsteiger said. “I knew that he was also playing in the center sometimes as a libero or a midfield player, but I think a lot of teams are actually playing this system. I think Juventus, Chelsea, there are some teams, even Bayern Munich, that are playing it. It’s just a different playing style. Some more defenders, some more midfield players so it depends a little, but I like it.”
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said the decision to go with the move was based on a few factors, mostly New England’s narrow attack with Kamara, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez as the primary attackers.
“Three guys that play very narrow,” Paunovic said. “We thought that could be a good solution. Obviously he has qualities to play (as a sweeper). The experience, the vision as a midfielder and I spoke with him and he did play in the past that position. He agreed also that he could play it because we also needed it for this game.”
Paunovic said the plan was in place in advance of the game and he liked how it looked in practice. He called it “another weapon” that the Fire can use in the future.
“We played out of the back,” Paunovic said. “We could see clearly that he is our man that created superiority for the build up. Everything went well.”
It doesn’t sound like utilizing Schweinsteiger in this way is something the Fire will use regularly, but it could be used again.
“Sometimes you have to play different,” Schweinsteiger said. “We always try to make it difficult for the opponent obviously. That’s the goal in every match. It always changes. It depends. Sometimes we play like this, sometimes we play different. Let’s see what’s next.”