Manuel Veth –
Major League Soccer will return on Saturday and with it perhaps one last chance for Bastian Schweinsteiger to finish his career with a major trophy. The 2014 World Cup winner joined Chicago Fire in 2017 in what was a landmark deal for MLS. But ultimately, the Fire failed to win the title in 2017 and did not even make the playoffs in 2018. Hence, the club looked to add and on Wednesday night sources from China reported that the Fire had acquired Argentine midfielder Nicolas Gaitán from Dalian Yifang.
OFFICIAL: Nicolas Gaitan has left Dalian Yifang to join Chicago Fire. pic.twitter.com/3Vp5upbOdI
— TransferMarkt China (@asaikana) February 28, 2019
Already confirmed by Dalian Yifang Chicago Fire were yet to make the deal official by the time of writing. But Paul Tenorio of the Athletic reported that a deal was indeed imminent. It is a significant deal for the Chicago Fire.
How will Schweinsteiger be impacted?
Mostly the transfer allows them to move Bastian Schweinsteiger from a holding midfield role further back into a centre-back/libero position in Veljko Paunović’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Although the former German international has spent most of his career playing further up the pitch either — either on the wing or central midfield — it is a position that seems to suit him well in his advanced age.
The 34-year-old was moved back into defence for the last 11 games of the 2018 season in what was akin to a shuffling your bets in a casino, for how to do that while placing your bets you can read more here but for the Fire, it was a great tactical overhaul. With a pass accuracy of 88.5% throughout the 2018 season Schweinsteiger, in fact, was perfectly suited for the role. Playing out of the back meant he had the entire park in front of him and also could preserve his strength as the centre-back position requires him to cover less distance over the full 90 minutes.
Then there is the fact that Schweinsteiger is excellent in aerial duels, both up front but also in the defensive zone. Despite being just 6 feet tall, Schweinsteiger won 46% of his aerial duels in 2018.
With Schweinsteiger moving further back, however, the Fire were now missing an essential piece in midfield. Originally, Schweinsteiger was supposed to build a double-pivot partnership with Dax McCarty. With Schweinsteiger playing as a centre-back, however, Paunovic placed talented Djordie Mihailovic next to McCarty.
The 20-year-old midfielder certainly has the talent to play there but with Chicago Fire heading into a crucial, and potentially final season, with Schweinsteiger in the squad the Fire needed to add strength for a championship run. Argentine attacking midfielder Nico Gaitán can provide the necessary depth in midfield and although he played mostly as a winger throughout his career could adapt to fill a void in central midfield.
Gaitán – Chicago add midfield depth
In fact, Gaitán spent much of the 2018 Chinese Super League season playing a more central role for Dalian Yifang. In 28 games with Dalian, Gaitán started 19 in a central midfield role. Three times he played on the right wing and in the remaining six games would switch between various roles in midfield.
Scoring two goals and six assists Gaitán had a somewhat disappointing season in China, however. A season that ended with his club finishing 11th in the 16 team league.
China, overall, was the final destination of a two-year stretch that was somewhat disappointing for the 31-year-old Argentine. Back in 2016, Atlético Madrid €25 million from Benfica Lisbon. Gaitán moved to Spain with a pedigree of 152 Liga NOS games in which he had scored 25 goals and provided 60 assists.
La Liga, however, was a different beast altogether. In Spain he played just 29 league games for Atlético Madrid, scoring three goals and three assists. His transfer value also plummeted. Worth €30 million in 2016 his value had dropped to €15 million in 2018 when Atlético sold him for €5.5 million to China.
Nonetheless, Gaitán will have something to offer to the Fire. His arrival means that he could either partner up with McCarty in central midfield, where the attacking winger could be moved into as he is progressing in age, or, alternatively, be pushed into the playmaking role, which was occupied by Aleksandar Katai last season.
In that role, Katai managed an impressive 12 goals and five assists in 33 games for the Fire last season. But the Serbian might be better suited to play on either wing and could, in fact, form a deadly attacking partnership behind prolific striker Nemanja Nikolics.
Hence, Gaitán’s arrival opens the door for more tactical flexibility at the Chicago Fire. Head coach Paunović could now rotate his midfielders and with Gaitán adds a significant creative element to the side. Finally, there is the aspect that the Argentine adds some extra star power to the side, taking some pressure off Schweinsteiger in that department as well.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.