Munich – His record so far in the Bundesliga makes for impressive reading: Played 21, won 20, drawn one. So swift and devastatingly successful has Javi Martinez's assimilation been that FC Bayern Munich's decision to make him the Bundesliga’s record purchase last summer in a team already chock-full of midfield talent no longer seems in the least outlandish.
Initially kept on the bench behind the infallibly reliable Luiz Gustavo, had to wait until 25 September for his first start in a Reds’ shirt, a 3-0 win against VfL Wolfsburg. Since then, however, he has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the first names on head coach Jupp Heynckes’ teamsheet.
Having won 61 per cent of his challenges and with a pass completion rate of 92.3 per cent, it is little wonder that Martinez has earned the confidence of his Spanish-speaking coach so quickly. Alongside a rejuvenated Bastian Schweinsteiger in the holding role, he has provided unwavering protection to a back four and goalkeeper who have conceded just eight times in 24 Bundesliga games.
While Bayern have let in a goal every 625 minutes with Martinez in the side, that average drops to every 143 minutes in his absence. He also missed their only league defeat so far this season, a 2-1 home reverse to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, in October. That was a game tailor-made for a player of his qualities. A physical presence was lacking on the day for the Reds against a doggedly deep-lying defence, while at the other end, he specialises in snuffing out the kind of counterattack that led to Stefan Kießling’s opener.
Perhaps what is most striking about the nine-time Spain international's development at Bayern is how readily he has taken on more attack-orientated duties. His tackling prowess was one of the greatest assets of the Athletic Bilbao team which reached last season’s UEFA Europa League final, but at Bayern he has allowed himself to roam further forward, assisting important goals in home wins against 1. FSV Mainz 05 and Eintracht Frankfurt, not to mention scoring twice himself.
Martinez’s authoritative integration into the side and his impressively effective partnership with Schweinsteiger have meant Gustavo, who boasts a league-best pass completion rate of 95.3 per cent, must for now make do with a place on the substitutes' bench. The collective strength of the Bayern squad makes for formidable viewing indeed as the team head down the home straight towards a potential treble success.
Traditionally, midfield holding roles have been primarily defensive, focused on breaking up opposition attacks and returning possession to the team's more creative talents. The modern midfielder, however, needs to be as technically proficient as he is defensively adept - able to dictate the pace of the game and equipped with a good range of passing, positional awareness and assuredness in possession.
Schweinsteiger has been that player for Bayern since switching to central midfield from a wider position. Martinez, coming from a more defensive background, is proving to be another. Rather than a classic ‘No.6,' each is by nature more of a box-to-box 'No8' - and seldom has a Bayern central midfield partnership looked this formidable.