Javi Martinez Injury Underlines Bayern Munich Need for New Central Defender

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2014

AP Images

Bayern Munich were dealt a hefty blow on Wednesday when Javi Martinez sustained a knee injury that in all likelihood will see him miss at least six months of action before returning to training.

After being stretchered into the tunnel, the Spain international posted a video to his Facebook account in which (according to AS) he revealed that the club doctors are "99 percent" sure he tore his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments.

The loss of Martinez will be a big one for Pep Guardiola, who built his 3-4-3 formation with the 25-year-old as his central center-back, a position from which the player was a key figure in building up the attack.

His loss, following the departure of Daniel van Buyten, leaves Bayern very thin in the central-defensive positions.

The only other natural center-backs currently in the Bayern roster are Jerome Boateng, Dante and Holger Badstuber. But the latter hasn't played a competitive match in more than 20 months and is a big risk to rely upon at such high a level.

Bayern were linked with several center-backs to replace Van Buyten earlier this summer, including David Luiz (via Bild, h/t Metro), Ezequiel Garay (via SportBild) and Mehdi Benatia (according to Sky, h/t @TancrediPalmeiri).

But the rumors soon dried up as Europe's most eligible center-backs joined other clubs in big-money moves and Guardiola apparently was impressed with Badstuber's progress. The trainer was even overheard (via Bild) saying that the center-back was the best in his position that he'd ever seen.

Badstuber is back in the Bayern team, but his recovery has only just begun.
Badstuber is back in the Bayern team, but his recovery has only just begun.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Since then, however, Badstuber has played less and less. He was used for just over half of Bayern's Telekom Cup match with Wolfsburg, then came off the bench in a friendly against Chivas. The 25-year-old was then benched for the entirety of the last two games.

For all Guardiola's praise, he still has a long way to go in his recovery. And that recovery will only be complete if he plays, which is a big risk to the team's success.

Beyond Badstuber, Bayern have two qualified options in Boateng and Dante. The latter perhaps has not been at his very best in 2014, but still shy of his 31st birthday, he has time before his natural physical decline. Boateng, for his part, has matured into a great center-back.

The problem is, what happens when one of Bayern's center-backs is injured or suspended? The answer will be revealed in their Bundesliga opener against Wolfsburg, in which Boateng will serve the second of a two-match suspension.

Guardiola's new system uses a three-man defense, but it's true that he has yet to use three natural center-backs. Rafinha and David Alaba flanked Martinez later in the preseason. At the same time, the trainer's new tactical approach is a very unorthodox one, a risk that may not yield reward.

In the entirely possible event that Bayern are found deficient in defense under Guardiola's new system, he'll need at least one more reliable center-back.

Bayern could sign a new center-back on a long-term deal or simply move for a loan. They could even make a deal with Van Buyten who, despite being 36 years of age, proved during the World Cup that he can still put in a good shift in defense.

Not bringing in another center-back would be hugely risky, even for a Bayern side that can win most games based on sheer midfield and attacking quality alone. It would be assuming that Badstuber is already set to perform at a high level and that he, Boateng and Dante will avoid injuries and suspensions, or that the system of using Rafinha (who notably is sidelined for the next few weeks with an ankle injury) and Alaba in central defense will be effective enough.

Odds are that a moderate investment for defensive security would be in Bayern's best interest.


Follow Clark Whitney on Twitter