Every team needs a player like Javi Martinez, especially one gunning for a treble. In a week of talking points for Bayern Munich, it has been Martinez that has monopolised the conversation, doing what he does best: playing the all-action midfielder at the heart of the Red machine.
The Spaniard received praise from all angles for his stellar display in last Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool, and on Saturday he wrote the headlines again, scoring the winning goal against Hertha Berlin to send Bayern joint-top of the Bundesliga table, albeit it only for 24 hours.
Martinez is Bayern’s man for all seasons, and as winter turns to spring, the 30-year-old is proving once again he can be relied on when the season approaches its critical phase. The perfect foil to the more elegant ball players Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez, he is simply a vital cog in the Reds’ operation.
At Anfield it was his defending that caught the eye, as he snapped into tackles, competed for headers and used every inch of his 6'2" frame to bully a hitherto free-scoring Liverpool attack into submission. On Saturday at the Allianz Arena, he made his mark at the other end by breaching a stubborn Hertha Berlin defence and sealing a win that could prove to be the turning point in this season’s title race.
Borussia Dortmund still hold a slender three-point advantage at the top, but their young and inexperienced side has shown signs of cracking under pressure of late, drawing three games in a row to let Bayern back in. How BVB could do with a player like Martinez, whose experience could be invaluable in the last 11 games of the season.
Now 30 years of age and a leader in his own right, Martinez will not settle for standards slipping in Bayern’s bid for a seventh successive league title. And yet, somewhat curiously, he has been used sparingly this season. The former Athletic Bilbao man made only brief cameos against Hertha in the DFB Cup on 6 February and the next two league games against Schalke and Augsburg, before the trip to Anfield.
Consider also that he has started just ten of 23 league matches, watching on as an unused substitute in eight of them. Those numbers might appear insufficient for a player of Martinez’s quality and pedigree, but crucially, it appears that Niko Kovac, a former midfield destroyer himself, knows when best to use his Basque battering ram.
The Croatian had no doubts picking him at Anfield and was rewarded with one of the best performances by any player in the competition this season. "Javi has that at this level, he's a real personality on the pitch for the team," gushed his manager post-game.
Martinez has started five of seven matches in the Champions League – Bayern shipped three goals at Ajax without him – and he will surely be the first name on the team sheet for the second leg against Liverpool on 13 March.
Martinez is a unique specimen, after all. No player in the Bayern squad, or indeed Europe as a whole, can tackle, press and carry the ball like he does. He intimidates opponents and breeds confidence in his team-mates, and has been trusted by a series of top-class managers, from Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and now Kovac, to be the glue that holds the Bayern team together when the stakes are highest.
The Bavarians would likely not have won the treble without Martinez in 2012/13. Now, six seasons later, very little has changed.