Javi Martinez can be the anchor to shore up Liverpool’s defence
Liverpool’s second summer window under the charismatic Jurgen Klopp is already off to a flying start, with the arrival of a flying winger in Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian is just about perfect for Klopp’s heavy metal brand of football, offering a new dimension of pace that only Sadio Mane could offer them last season. Liverpool now not only have depth in attack but also a whole new set of ways for the German tactician to tinker with his forward line.
The Reds still do lack a certain depth in personnel in their defensive line, which has been a seemingly perennial problem for a very long time. Joel Matip was expected to have a great deal of impact when he was brought in, and with all due respect to the Cameroonian, he did – just not enough to really shore up the defence per se. He has the quality to succeed at Anfield without a doubt, and after a debut season, for him to get accustomed to the ways of English football, he is most certain to do so.
Lovren, the weak link in disguise
Dejan Lovren was just recently handed a new £100k-a-week contract with Klopp hinting towards a long term stay for the Croatian. Yet, even after some stand out performances from the former Southampton man, there are flaws to his game that have the potential to be ripped to shreds when Liverpool participate in the Champions League.
Lovren is far from the assured, calm and composed figure that Klopp’s men need at the back. He has always seemed to depend on a reliable partner at the heart of the defence, such as Matip this season. The Croatian still has a number of issues in terms of positional play and decision making which need to be worked on, and now that the Champions League is about to grace the turf at Anfield for the second time in the span of eight years, they need to be at their very best.
Unfortunately for Lovren, he wouldn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) be in the best XI at Liverpool when push comes to shove. He’s a reliable stopper who occasionally excels but is far too vulnerable. His injuries haven’t helped either, having faced up to eight injury setbacks last season alone.
Their pursuit of Virgil Van Dijk made clear the kind of figure they are looking to recruit to help improve their defence. And one of those key attributes that they’ve been looking for is comfort on the ball and the ability to use it judiciously to good effect.
The Van Dijk scenario was made a near-mockery with the club having to publicly apologise for ‘tapping’ the player in order to land him to Anfield. They Dutchman even reportedly agreed to move to the Reds, although the move is extremely doubtful to go through after it was so poorly handled.
But in all fairness, there are options that would provide certain characteristics that are both stylistic and crucial to an outfit on the brink of something great.
The most fitting option in this regard would be Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich, for more than a number of reasons.
History, style of play and stature
Javi Martinez was stationed at the base of a midfield as a defensive midfielder at Athletic Bilbao. He learned his trade as someone who can sniff out attacks and screen his defence with ease, largely due to his stature. He stands at a devastating 6’3”, is good in the air, and cuts a commanding figure in that role.
Although, it is his work under Marco Bielsa that makes him a perfect fit for Liverpool. Under the former Chile manager, who oversaw the Spaniard become an elite ball-playing centre-half, he became an expert in shutting out the opposition, recycling possession and stepping out of the defensive line to start an attack. For a team that plays its’ football at a tempo as high as Klopp’s Liverpool, Martinez can be that link.
With the relatively calmer figure of Joel Matip beside him, the Bayern Munich man can be the aggressive, authoritative and commanding presence that the Merseysiders have been crying out for. He is a monstrous tackler as well and boasts 1.43 successful tackles per match.
Van Dijk is near-perfect for most of the above-mentioned qualities while profiling the two players. Yet there are differences that might play to Liverpool’s advantage should a hypothetical move go through. Martinez is a superior distributor of the ball boasting a ridiculous 91% pass accuracy in 25 Bundesliga outings, in comparison to the Dutchman’s 84% in 21 matches.
More importantly, it is interesting to note the Spaniard’s use of the ball. He averages roughly 77.4 passes per game for the German champions, out of which nearly 61 of them are forward ones. Not only is he a more superior distributor but the Spaniard is skilled in the art of springing attacks from the back more frequently than Van Dijk.
Jordon Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana have been Liverpool’s standout midfield combination that has provided a platform for their array of talented attackers to express themselves. Not to mention, they’ve chipped in with more than their share of goals and assists as well. But here lies the problem: none of them is a natural destroyer, which calls for Klopp to sign a defensive minded midfielder.
Hypothetically, even if they do not, and persist with Henderson as their number one choice for that role – there is another issue. The Englishman missed a large chunk of the season via injury, exposing a major weakness in the Liverpool squad, the fact that there is no backup whatsoever for that role. Lucas Leiva is as conservative as a midfielder they can have, and Emre Can has the ability to play a number of roles in a midfield, none of which are compatible for that of a pivot.
This is where Martinez’s versatility can be utilised. Having learnt his trade as a defensive midfielder, he is a reliable backup in case their main man in midfield is unavailable. Moreover, he can also provide a certain physicality to the midfield which is only partly provided by Can’s underwhelming cameos.
This is perhaps the biggest difference between all of Liverpool’s reported transfer targets for this position and Javi Martinez. The amount of experience that the Spaniard brings to a back line is immense and invaluable to a side hoping to make a mark in the Champions League.
His experience with Bayern in the deeper stages in the competition is more than crucial to Liverpool who’s main options at centre-half having nearly no CL minutes at all.
He can lead a relatively young defence (if Liverpool sign a new left back to replace Milner, that is), and can bring the best out of those around him. Matip at 24 would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of his arrival.
Why leave Bayern Munich?
If Liverpool can lure the commanding Martinez to Anfield, it would be a signing worth every penny they spend. Although Martinez started a decent 25 games in the league last season and predominantly featured in the Champions League as well, it was largely due to Jerome Boateng’s injury. He was at the mercy of his team’s star centre-half. With the arrival of Nicklas Sule, his berth is in further jeopardy.
And the most important factor being the fact that this is a World Cup year, Javi needs a team where he’s the main man in defence. Liverpool can offer him European football as well as the opportunity to be their undisputed No.1 choice. And for a manager who relies heavily on quick short passes while building up play, he can add a new dimension to Liverpool’s XI.
Klopp was about to spend a reported £60m on Van Dijk ousting their record signing by a comfortable £25m difference. If that is the degree of importance that is being given to improving the Anfield defence, a player in the ilk of Javi Martinez is the perfect fit for the former Dortmund manager.