Bastian Schweinsteiger is in the same class as Xavi and Andres Iniesta and Bayern Munich are not the same team without him, the coach Jupp Heynckes said yesterday.
The 66-year-old has seen his Bayern team, who looked unstoppable early in the season as they won 10 matches in a row without conceding a goal, drop to third in the Bundesliga, four points behind the leaders, Borussia Dortmund. They visit Basle tonight for the first leg of a Champions League last-16 tie, hoping to avoid the same fate as Manchester United, who were beaten 2-1 by the Swiss champions in December.
Bayern's slump has coincided with injuries to Schweinsteiger. The midfielder suffered a dislocated shoulder against Napoli in November and an ankle injury this month, four matches into his comeback. On Saturday, Bayern drew 0-0 at Freiburg.
"For me, Bastian plays in the same league as Xavi, as Iniesta and Sergio Busquets," said Heynckes, referring to three much-admired Barcelona players. "He's a strategist, he's the brains of the team and it's not been so easy without him in the last games."
Schweinsteiger rescued Bayern on their last visit to Basle, scoring twice as they came from behind to win 2-1 in a group game last season. He also scored twice for Germany at St Jakob-Park in Euro 2008.
Bayern's recent performances have included a 3-1 defeat by Borussia Mönchengladbach.
"The criticism is justified and we have to respect it," said Heynckes. "But I'm convinced that on Wednesday we can produce a good performance."
The striker Mario Gomez said: "We haven't yet played convincingly in 2012. We must not underestimate Basle. They are a very strong team with their fans behind them, although we have enough quality to get to the next round."
Internazionale's season has also been up and down. They are away to Marseilles in tonight's other Champions League tie. The 2010 European champions have lost their last two Serie A home games, 1-0 to Novara and 3-0 to Bologna.
The defeats have led some supporters to call for Claudio Ranieri to be dismissed, despite the former Chelsea, Juventus and Roma coach having revitalised the club after a dreadful start to the season under Gian Piero Gasperini. Inter rose from the lower reaches of Serie A to the top four but they are now seventh. They have also been knocked out of the Italian cup.
"There is a good team here and the club is healthy and strong," Ranieri said. The coach has no new injury worries to complicate an already difficult task of reviving his team for the match at Stade Vélodrome. The Argentinian defender Walter Samuel could return after injury and the Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan is available, having been cup-tied.
Marseilles have not lost in any competition for 15 games, stretching back to a Champions League defeat at home to Olympiakos in November. However, Didier Deschamps's side only scraped through to the Champions League knockout stage with a 3-2 victory at Borussia Dortmund.
They are without the services of the France striker Loïc Rémy, who has been ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury. Jordan and Andre Ayew have come back from the African Cup of Nations, where they reached the semi-finals with Ghana, and at least one of the two should start up front against Inter.
The France midfielder Alou Diarra, who was replaced at half-time in the fourth-placed team's 1-1 home Ligue 1 draw with Valenciennes on Saturday, after taking a blow on his toe, is expected to be fit.
"He was better on Sunday but we have to wait a little bit. It doesn't seem to be serious so we hope he will be there against Inter," said the Marseilles assistant coach, Guy Stephan.Reuse content