Javi Martínez: The Unsung Hero
This is one of the few moments when the Spaniard is in the spotlight and everybody remembers how important this player is for Bayern Munich not just on Saturday, but all the time when he’s healthy and especially this season.
The 28-year old’s performances are constant and often so unspectacular, that they only stand out when looked at closely. The centre-back doesn’t hit the same spectacular and lovely long balls as Jerome Boateng and doesn’t attempt half as many shots as Mats Hummels.
However, Javi Martínez is one of the most important defensive cornerstones – maybe even the single most important one.
Back to Cologne, different setting. Bayern loses possession in midfield. Cologne tries to outplay Munich’s gegenpressing with a long ball that eventually finds Anthony Modeste. But before the striker can create a dangerous situation, Martínez sweeps in to de-escalate.
On Saturday he came through with four tackles and four clearances. Furthermore, Martínez can’t be fooled by opponent’s pressure. In the passing game he makes smart decisions, rather playing the easy and safe pass. There are others on the pitch for playmaking.
And still his abilities with the ball are often overlooked. Martínez doesn’t advance up the pitch and hit vertical passes as often as Hummels. But he has both these weapons in his arsenal. Just remember the away game at Schalke, when his pass turned around the game.
However, the biggest quality of the Spanish international is his positioning. Opponent’s passes behind Bayern’s back-four haven’t gotten more difficult simply because Hummels (72%) and Martínez (64%) win most of their tackles. But in addition both centre-backs anticipate many attacks in advance and stop them by clever positioning.
While Hummels has 2.3 interceptions per 90 minutes his partner is at 2.1. In the meantime it’s impressive to see how seldom both of them chase opposing strikers, even though the two aren’t the fastest.
In the past, Bayern supporters often called for the Spaniard’s return to midfield. In 2013 Martínez did exactly the same as today, just one position up the pitch. He cleaned up behind his creative partner – Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Signed from Bilbao the then-midfielder won important duels, was always available for passes and excelled at taking out the opponent’s most lethal weapon. This became most obvious in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2013. Looking back, nobody really knows whether Iniesta even played in that game. Thanks to Martinez.
This season his role is the same. Only he plays in central defence now. There is no need for his strength in midfield and Hummels benefits a lot from his partner.
The more they became accustomed to one another, the more Hummels took over the role of the deep-lying playmaker. Finally, the former Dortmunder seemed to have fully arrived at Bayern. This is caused by both a better positioning of the midfielders and by his partner helping him out after a lost possession.
In order to become one of the best centre-backs in the world, Martínez would need to be even better with the ball. However, one should not forget that he also improves everyone around him on the pitch. It’s not far off the mark to call Javi Martinez the best second centre-back in the world, as he ensures that Hummels can elevate his game on a higher level compared to the first months back in Munich.
Despite all the enthusiasm, Bayern soon might have a luxury problem. Jérôme Boateng is about to make his comeback from injury. The German international is already back in team practice and will soon return to Bayern’s squad.
As Ancelotti will unlikely change his system, it is pointless to debate about a back-three, even though the potential upside seems huge.
Of course, Bayern has a lot of games left this season to implement plenty of line-up changes at centre-back. Also Ancelotti has enough experience to keep all three players happy.
But how about Bayern’s defensive stability? Can Boateng directly replace Martínez? Will his comeback disrupt the rhythm of the back-four? Who will be in the starting XI for the important games?
Right now there seems no way past Martínez and Hummels. Boateng will have to get in line and earn his place during practice.
Javi Martínez plays an overwhelming season and has impressively proven that he can be one of the most important players of the squad, even without doing the obvious and spectacular things.
The Spaniard – also still Bayern’s record signing – is this season’s unsung hero. The same was true for the treble season in 2013. However, it has to be seen how this plays out in the near future, but right now Martínez is irreplaceable and a blessing for Bayern.