With another FA Cup final, three games remaining on the Premier League fixture list and one point between Chelsea and second placed Manchester United, it may be a little premature for the Blue’s management and players to think about summer transfers. Mercifully, as pundits and fans, we do not have to play Liverpool with the additional worry of the reigning champions snapping behind us, and can afford ourselves this idle speculation.
With an ageing but still potent team, Chelsea should only look to replace one member of the starting eleven – Michael Ballack. The German captain has played plenty this season, but has routinely looked average and tired when on the pitch. While he is still a fine midfielder, he should no longer claim a starting berth over Lampard, Essien or Mikel. The reasons for this are simple. He doesn’t bring the athletic dynamism of the Ghanian, the assists and goal return of the Englishman, or the youth and adequate defensive shielding of the Nigerian.
Essentially he is an old utility midfielder, a player who can be trusted to make the right pass but who can no longer run for ninety minutes, a player with an ego that demands stroking but increasingly, doesn’t deserve it.
But Chelsea have an excellent replacement ready should Bayern Munich prove to be willing bartering partners.
In Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Blues have a flexible player able to take on almost any role in the midfield position, much like his international Captain Ballack used to be able to provide.
“Schweini” could star as a direct replacement for Die Mannschaft captain in the central role, especially given his excellence in this position for his Bavarian club this campaign. He has displayed both the ability to spread the ball around and to work very hard to win the ball back for his side. But his abilities and uses are far greater than just being a hard working trooper, a man willing to run down opponents and lay off passes to the creative attacking types.
He can also function as a wide midfielder, and though lacking the pace and intricate dribbling associated with natural wingers like his teammate Arjen Robben, Schweinsteiger can put in enough accurate crosses to force any defense to adjust to this menace.
With Flourent Malouda, Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov wreaking havoc on the left, Chelsea’s right has appeared tame. Branislav Ivanovic can be counted on for a couple of good crosses per game on top of his usual solid defending, but the right just does not have the same threat for the Blues that the opposite side carries. The right wingers in the Blues’ 4-3-3 – Anelka or Joe Cole or Solomon Kalou – are not as naturally suited to this role like Malouda is on the left and thus, the wide right attacks suffer.
Adding the German international to the right would improve Chelsea’s options in attack and force any opposition to consider how to contain both flanks equally. A tactical change to a 4-4-2 to include both Anelka as a pure striker and Schweinsteiger’s wide play would certainly give pause to anyone in Europe.
But, as mentioned earlier, Schweinsteiger has become one of Europe’s top central midfielders this season, and could therefore also fill in that role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 or Ancelotti’s old favorite, the 4-4-2 diamond. With now constant injuries to Essien, Schweinsteiger could very well claim his place in the starting XI.
Additionally, he has shown for Germany that he can be a very good attacking player, although the presence of certain French and Dutch footballers on his club team seem to have prevented the repetition of his fairly impressive German goal return for Munich. Given more room to attack and fewer defensive responsibilities however, he should be able to knock in a goal every few games or so for the Blues.
Further, his relative youth means his performance would not dip so dramatically as both games and the seasons wear on. While not an explosive player, he certainly won’t visibly deteriorate during every ninety minute match. In the generally epic, tri-pronged (at least) campaigns Chelsea have involved themselves in over the past handful of seasons, the importance of players with sufficient energy come April and May should not be underestimated.
Lastly, his ego does not seem to reflect his quality on the pitch. While this might not seem to be so important, it could be argued that one of Chelsea’s biggest flaws of the past few seasons has come from the generally unpleasant attitude conveyed by some of their megalomaniacal stars. While this is by no means true for the entire squad, having another player who won’t add to this image can’t hurt.
While some might yearn for Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez or some other player who can help add a cutting edge (although why another forward is needed is still a mystery to me), “Basti” is probably the player Chelsea need to become younger and more competitive in an area that needs instant repair.
The club should make the bid before the World Cup, as his price tag will shoot up come July if he repeats his excellent performances for Germany as he has done for most of his career. The chance to do so is now; come August, half of Europe may be splashing out on the midfield star.