It is the film room we have all been waiting for: an ode to Javi Martinez’s timeless performance against Liverpool FC. Bayern Munich entered the tie as the underdog with a legitimate fear of being broken open by the lethal attacking trio of the Merseyside club.
Niko Kovac planned accordingly, setting up a defensive masterclass worthy of the challenge posed by Jürgen Klopp. At the center of this game plan was the bold decision to reinstate Javi Martinez with his defensive qualities into the starting XI. Although it may seem like a straightforward decision, the Spaniard had not played at his best for some time, and rumors had recently emerged to suggest that his time in the Bavarian capital was limited. Although these were later refuted, the midfield destroyer has played only a bit-part role under the Croatian boss.
Martinez repaid Kovac’s faith with a performance reminiscent of the 2013 treble winning campaign. Paired alongside Thiago Alcantara, the midfielder shielded the back line and stifled the Liverpool attack. The man was EVERYWHERE. With only 58 touches, his presence on the ball does not tell the whole story of his contribution: 2 key passes, 4 aerial duels won, 2 tackles, 4 clearances, 6 (!!!) interceptions, 1 blocked shot, in addition to drawing three fouls and successfully wasting time throughout the second half produce a stat line worthy of his dominance.
Let’s take a look at this vintage performance.
Despite limited pace and agility, the 30-year-old read the game masterfully as he consistently found himself in passing lanes. Early in the match, as we see below, Martinez hedges towards Naby Keita to cut off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s easiest option. The Liverpool right back shifts his attention, hoping to find Mane in space at the top of the box, but the Spanish defensive midfielder quickly defuses the situation, setting Robert Lewandowski and Kinglsey Coman free on the counter.
Later in the first half, Martinez shuts down Liverpool’s build up. He drops into position and quickly slides into Matip’s passing lane as he attempts to break through the front line of Bayern’s press. Although ti may seem insignificant at first, Martinez effectively disrupts the rhythm of Liverpool’s build up, while allowing Bayern to press Liverpool’s back line deeper. High pressing was not a staple of this performance, but Bayern will likely apply more pressure at the Allianz Arena in a few weeks. Martinez’s defensive awareness and ability to intercept passes will allow the Bavarian front three to be more aggressive in defense.
Martinez’s maintained a laser-like focus throughout the match. The midfield destroyer remained wary of counter-attacking opportunities and made sure not to overextend himself. In the next clip, Martinez intercepts Keita’s initial play just outside Bayern’s penaty area, releasing Thiago up field. Unfortunately, James scuffs the pass on a one-two and commits a turnover in the middle of the park. Martinez, however, easily intercepts Keita’s attempt to play Mane in and then chases down the loose ball. A potentially catastrophic error was covered up as if no danger was ever present thanks to the former Athletic Bilbao star.
Javi’s most important interception of the game came in the 93rd minute, following a rare Mats Hummels overextension with Liverpool on the break. As Keita charges forward, the Spaniard finds himself behind the ball. He tracks back at pace, putting himself in Keita’s way just as the latter eludes a tackle by Hummels. While Hummels is now out of the play and Süle out of position, Javi’s quick reactions prevent a very dangerous pass to Georginio Wijnaldum, who merely had to tap the ball on to a wide-open Mane in the penalty area.
Martinez consistently relied on his defensive awareness and intelligence to overcome declining athleticism and position himself in passing lanes to disrupt attacking moves. His relentlessness in pursuit of Liverpool attackers also stood out. Bayern’s number 8 never seemed to slow down. In another instance where the Bavarian defense swarmed one of the Liverpool front three, Javi ensured that Roberto Firmino was not given a split second to escape the pressure.
Martinez arguably put in his best performance for Die Roten in defiance of his recent form, while his veteran presence provided the leadership and guile needed to get the job done in a difficult atmosphere. His savvy in big matches was on full display as he employed mischievous tactics throughout the second half as each precious second ticked away. After all, big teams win big games with a big-time mentality.
Never change, Javi!
Do you think the Spanish midfield destroyer cemented himself as a member of Kovac’s first choice XI?