For several seasons, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira of Real Madrid have been regarded by many as world football's best double pivot in holding midfield.
Their movement in conjunction with each other—simultaneously shielding the back four from their midfield slots in Jose Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 formation—has been absolutely stunning, always shifting and protecting when necessary.
They find each other with ease, and while one can pick a pass, the other can surge forward with intent; both are defensively able and do a lot of hard work in front of Sergio Ramos and Co.
But this season Bayern Munich have risen to the top of the footballing pyramid, and with it some much-improved players have taken centre stage.
David Alaba has come on leaps and bounds, Mario Mandzukic has clambered into the spotlight and fans everywhere pine for a player like Thomas Mueller.
But perhaps most impressive of all is the holding midfield partnership formed by Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger—a duo that shone once again during the UEFA Champions League final win.
Schweini came into the season on the back of an injury-blighted campaign, while Martinez faced the pressure of living up to an astonishing €40 million price tag.
It took them a while to find some chemistry, but once the foundations were there, Luiz Gustavo promptly lost his place in the starting XI.
Martinez and Schweinsteiger are both defensively conscious, willing to dribble and happy to enter the opposition's penalty area, but also equally happy clearing from the edge of their own.
They combine that ability with pace and power, making them difficult to overload both technically and physically.
Jupp Heynckes likes his team to get out of the blocks quickly and overwhelm the opposition: Martinez's strength and Schweinsteiger's positional discipline are crucial to intimidating the midfields they come up against.
Dante has brought a high line to Bayern, and that changes the way the double pivot works.
It gives Martinez the freedom to charge forward and man-mark a player—a la Andres Iniesta when Bayern faced Barcelona—or drop off and mark zonally whilst not (horizontally) in line with Schweinsteiger.
When Dante and his defence steps up, it forces the opposing team to make a pass, and more often than not, the Brazilian defender intercepts. The midfield pivots are always in place to win the 50/50 battle for the scrap ball, then initiate an attack from there.
This mechanism of turning the ball over is why Bayern appear to play as a counterattacking team, but rather than control the ball, they control the space.
Arguably the most impressive factor is how Schweinsteiger holds the line of engagement, dropping his midfield into the right position on the pitch before stepping forward and forcing opposition action.
Bayern will drop off and stay in two banks of four, then pounce at the right time and counter.
The defensive line and team cohesion is very important here, but the critical launching of attacks and winning of midfield battles starts with Martinez and Schweinsteiger. The positional play and zonal marking is also incredibly important.
With Bayern set to complete a historic treble and stamp their authority on world football, these two are set to become the double pivot everyone looks to copy.
Alonso and Khedira are very impressive, but their throne is under serious threat.
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