At his best, Bastian Schweinsteiger might be the best midfielder in the world. He can tackle, is positionally sound, keeps the ball, can open up the attack with one great pass and can get forward and score. But that is him at his best, something he had not been for months.
Against Portugal in Germany's Euro 2012 opener, Schweinsteiger looked like a shell of himself. He wasn't covering the ground he usually does and his passing was average at best. Probably the worst part was that for long stretches of the match he was invisible. That is something that nobody ever said about a fit and in form Schweinsteiger, who tilted the field in his team's favor every time he stepped on the pitch.
It wasn't that Schweinsteiger was poor, because he wasn't. He still did some good things and he didn't hurt his team, but he wasn't the elite player that people expected him to be. He was just okay and okay doesn't cut it for Schweinsteiger or for Germany.
Schweinsteiger's performance against Portugal wasn't very different from many of the ones he has put in of late. Some say that his struggles are a result of his penalty miss versus Chelsea in the Champions League final, but they would be wrong. Schweinsteiger's sub-standard play started long before that.
After putting in a tremendous few months for Bayern Munich last fall, a stretch in which he was the best player in the world not playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid, Schweinsteiger was injuted. He missed almost two months and when he came back at the end of January, he looked nothing like the player from the fall. That wasn't a surprise considering the layoff and most figured that he would round into form with a few matches, but he didn't. A month would surely do it, but it didn't. Two months would get him back to the Schweinsteiger of old, but it didn't.
Through Bayern's entire run to the Champions League final and a second place finish in the Bundesliga, Schweinsteiger wasn't at his best or even near it. He wasn't even a sure-fire starter, which was previously unheard of.
His club form continued for country, as we saw against Portugal. There were calls that he be dropped from the starting lineup and with Lars Bender and Ilkay Gundogan waiting in the wings. But Schweinsteiger started against the Netherlands and in that match, something changed.
Maybe it was the acres of space that the Dutch gave him or maybe he just finally hit form, but whatever the reason, Schweinsteiger looked like the Schweinsteiger of old against the Netherlands. His passing was exquisite and he picked up two assists, but it wasn't just that. Schweinsteiger absolutely dominated the match, intercepting passes, cutting out Dutch attacks and making his little subtle touches and turns to keep the ball and possession for Germany.
Schweinsteiger was at an all-world level against the Netherlands. Sami Khedira turned in another fine performance, but as is the case when Schweinsteiger is at his best, it is easy to forget who is his partner in the pivot because he is doing so much. Against the Dutch, Khedira was nearly invisible. It was the Schweinsteiger show.
When Schweinsteiger is playing as well as he did against the Dutch, there is not a team in the world that can beat them. Mario Gomez is in fine form, Mesut Ozil is creating beneath him and Mats Hummels is showing why he might be the best defender the world. The names Thomas Mueller and Philip Lahm, among others, haven't even come up yet. Germany has that obscene a collection of talent and even if Schweinsteiger isn't at his best they still might be able to win Euro 2012.
But if Schweinsteiger is at his best, as he was against the Netherlands, the rest of Europe can give up. He has a full toolbox and he knows how to use each one, as the Dutch found out. There is no stopping him at his best, a best we had not seen for almost six months.
Now the Netherlands might be the biggest enemy to every team left in Euro. The time they gave Schweinsteiger has given him back the confidence he lacked and Germany have gone from very good to nearly unbeatable. The gift the Dutch gave Schweinsteiger is a welcome one in Germany, and the worst thing that could have happened to the rest of the tournament contenders. Look out, Europe, here comes Schweinsteiger again and with him, the best team on the continent.