Javi Martinez made his official debut for FC Bayern Munich couple of weeks back during their 6-1 mauling of Stuttgart. Coming in on as a late substitute for Schweinsteiger in the 83rd minute, he was greeted on to the pitch by an enthusiastic applause by a sell-out crowd at the Allianz. He did nothing dramatic in the 11-12 minutes he spent on the pitch, but pundits, critics, and fans watched his every move, his every touch of the ball. Why wouldn’t they, considering Die Roten’s new number 8 was not only the club’s most expensive signing in their history, but also the most expensive signing in the history of the Bundesliga.
The transfer saga between Bayern and Bilbao that stretched the entire length of the summer was much highlighted and followed by the footballing media. With Bayern having to be content with the “bridesmaids” role on three occasions last season, it was no secret that they were on the lookout for a midfield enforcer, a true defensive midfielder who could shield the vulnerable back four. Names such as Sahin, Nigel de Jong and Pirlo started circling around the Allianz soon after the Euros were concluded.
But for much the hype, Bayern’s management only approached Lars Bender and Javi Martinez with Lars Bender’s employers, Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen turning down all approaches from their league rivals . On the other hand, Javi’s then employers had tied down their home-grown player with a complicated contract that foxed most people and even tax experts to a certain extent. Eventually with Martinez having to buying himself out of the contract (again makes no sense), Bayern finally landed their man 2 days before the window closed.
Javi Martinez is your typical box-to-box midfielder. During his days at Athletic Bilbao he was known for his game opening abilities and his calmness during pressure situations. His physic and height coupled with his skills to get the ball upfront to his teammates prompted Marcelo Bielsa to use him as a center back. At Bayern, his primary task will be to shore up the defense. His presence in front of the back four is expected to bring in stability to an otherwise vulnerable defense. Aside his defense duties, he will also be expected to dictate the play from midfield.
Bayern for the last 2-3 seasons have lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Schweinstiger/Kroos assuming the playmaker role with Gustavo/Tymoschuk holding themselves back to assist the center-backs Badstuber and Boateng/Dante. With the arrival of Martinez, one would expect him to take up the defensive midfield role assisting the defense and picking out the runs of his teammates. After all a team does not shell out 40 million on a player for him to warm the bench. But does this mean curtains for Gustavo, Tymo and the emerging Can? Will they be relegated to the match-day Bayern bench or even worse a comfortable seat in the stadium?
Squad rotation is probably the simplest solution to this. Bayern finally seem to have the quality and depth in squad which they so lacked in their last 2 trophyless seasons. With the arrivals of new talents in Dante, Shaqiri, Mandzukic, Pizarro and Martinez, the bench strength has certainly improved with considerable competition for every position on the pitch. With Kroos and Mueller fighting it out for the second striker or the “hole” role and with Schweinsteiger expected to hold on to his playmaking spot in the center of the pitch Martinez is going to be expected to share playing time with Gustavo, Tymo and Can. Of course Martinez can also sub in for Schweini when needed due to his ball playing abilities. Gustavo has played a key role in the team as their primary ball winner and enforcer.
But as the business end of the season gets closer, squad rotation frequency can be expected to come down. Bayern presumably will be fighting it out on 3 fronts and that calls for good team chemistry and a well balanced team. It will be interesting to see the selection Jupp Heynckes makes for these games.
With the cauldron of talent available in midfield at Jupp’s disposal and a big job in keeping everyone happy at the club, Jupp might look to change the way Bayern play.
The 4-2-3-1 can be converted to a 4-3-3 by playing the number 10 in a more withdrawn role. This places a lot more emphasis on the midfield controlling majority of the play. A major concern for Bayern last season was when oppositions parked the bus in front of the goal. The lack of creativity from the middle of the park was quite evident in those games. A three man talented midfield aiding “Robbery” and Gomez could bring in a different dimension to the play.
Bayern can also try the 4-1-2-2-1 system with Schweinstiger and Kroos/Muller playing as Central attacking midfielders and Martinez adopting the role of a modern ‘libero’. This system will again utilize the midfield creativeness and ball playing ability of Bayern’s midfield trio of Schweinstiger, Kroos and Martinez. Martinez could be given a good amount of freedom here with Schweinstiger and Kroos more than capable of tracking back to defend.
The conventional 4-4-2 or the more attacking form 4-2-2-2 with either Muller or Mandzukic partnering Gomez is also on the table with Martinez on the pitch.
The use of a three man midfield will definitely push Tymo and Emre down the pecking order. Luis Gustavo has impressed Jupp enough to come in as a late sub or start when needed. With
Kroos, Mueller and Schweinstiger cementing their places as attacking central midfield players and Martinez partnering them it is widely expected that the Ukrainian captain might be forced to find a new home during the winter transfer window. Emre Can will almost surely be loaned out to gain more first team experience.
A 40 million tag is a lot to live up to especially when playing for one of the best clubs in Europe and young Javi will be eager not to disappoint his employers. The Spaniard’s versatility in both attack and defense is something Bayern will certainly benefit from this season. Javi’s skills in ball playing and his long balls up field to pick-out Ribery, Gomez and Robben will add an extra tooth to Bayern’s attack and the calmness and control he brings when slotted in between the two centerbacks should help Bayern plug the leak at the back.
Overall, in spite of the high price paid by Bayern in getting him, the skills and the versatility he brings to the side should fetch Bayern silverware they have so deserved over the last 2 seasons.