The 2013 UEFA Champions League final will likely be decided in the midfield. Fortunately for Bayern Munich, it has Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez.
When Martinez made the move to the Allianz Arena from Athletic Bilbao, you would have been forgiven if you were a bit skeptical. The midfielder cost €40 million, and the Bavarians already had Luiz Gustavo to partner with Schweinsteiger.
Now that move looks like one of the best of the summer. Martinez and Schweinsteiger have combined to form one of the best—if not the best—double pivots in world football. Martinez played at centre-back as well under Marcelo Bielsa, so he came to Bayern as a proficient defender and a nice foil to Schweinsteiger.
Part of the problem for the German national team at Euro 2012 was Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira moving forward at the same time and running into the same areas, leaving the back four a bit exposed. That's not a problem at all for Bayern as Martinez is more than happy to sit back as Schweinsteiger looks to move forward.
Of course, Bayern's midfield fortunes are in stark contrast to Borussia Dortmund's problems in the midfield, which are mostly down to Mario Gotze.
First came news of Gotze's imminent move to Bayern Munich in the summer. In a way, any conflict of interest has been eliminated by virtue of the fact Gotze won't be fit for the match (h/t FOX Soccer):
FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer
Official: Gotze will miss #UCLFinal on Saturday - http://t.co/XS2kUQBwlN5/22/2013, 4:12:25 PM
Gotze was the perfect kind of attacking midfielder who could open up Dortmund for the counter or track back a bit to defend when needed. In his absence, Jurgen Klopp will have to rely on either Nuri Sahin or Kevin Grossgreutz.
Selecting Sahin will likely mean moving Ilkay Gundogan or Sven Bender forward, with neither being as effective.
Grosskreutz has seen his impact lessen as Dortmund has risen up the European pecking order. He may not have the talent to offer a dependable threat in the attacking midfield. He could easily be swallowed up by Bayern's midfield.
By shutting down the Dortmund midfield, the Bavarians would also be cutting off the supply to Robert Lewandowski. He's been unplayable at times this season, with his four goals against Real Madrid as the highlight.
But Lewandowski has scored only once in four matches against Bayern this season. Coincidentally, Dortmund has yet to beat Bayern this season.
The Bavarians have a wealth of attacking options with the likes of Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic, Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller. You need to score goals in order to win, but Martinez and Schweinsteiger have been the engine for Bayern's wildly successful Bundesliga campaign and run to the Champions League final.
What was so impressive in the Bavarians aggregate wins over Juventus and Barcelona was the way in which their pressing suffocated the opposition attack. Sure the Catalans were a bit hampered by the not-so-fit Lionel Messi. Take nothing away from Bayern's performance. Over the two legs, the German club rendered Xavi and Andres Iniesta ineffective. The same happened to Andrea Pirlo and Juventus' midfield.
Dortmund is much more of a quick-strike team, looking to move the ball up the pitch with as few passes as possible. With Martinez and Schweinsteiger, Bayern has the kind of defensive midfielders who are strong enough in winning the ball and mobile enough to keep up with the counter.
It's too early to make any predictions as to major European power shifts, but with Martinez and Schweinsteiger together, Bayern can be successful for years to come.
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