After a humbling home defeat to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur that has all-but-mathematically ended their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, reflection on Chelsea’s decisions last summer are inevitable. Without Diego Costa, they’ve lacked the same bullishness in attack, and without Nemanja Matic they’ve dearly missed the same solidity in midfield – even with N’Golo Kante remaining ever-present.
Because he joined a direct divisional rival in Manchester United, the decision to sell the latter has proved a particularly sore spot. While Alvaro Morata has shown convincing glimpses of his potential to fill Costa’s void in the long-term, Cesc Fabregas and summer signings Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have all struggled to make Matic’s role their own, each failing to replicate the dynamics of an engine room that made Chelsea so formidable last season.
Of course, it remains to be seen if Antonio Conte will be Chelsea’s manager when the summer transfer window comes around, and accordingly whether the west Londoners continue using the 3-4-3 system that has been far less functional without Matic at its core.
But should the Italian stay on at Stamford Bridge, or should his successor maintain the same game-plan for the start of 2017/18, it’s clear Chelsea need another partner for Kante, someone who can mimic the Serbian international’s power, control and positioning in midfield.
Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez is an unorthodox suggestion, but one who could fall nicely into that remit. Part centre-back, part defensive midfielder, the Spaniard certainly matches Matic for physicality, measuring in at 6 foot 3 and using his impressive brawn to soak up space in key areas. Perhaps more crucial is Martinez’s experience and age; particularly since David Luiz and Gary Cahill were taken out of the back three, Chelsea have often appeared to lack a leader and a level head, someone with the nous to steer them through difficult games.
And the 29-year-old’s defensive qualities were evident last night as Bayern Munich recorded a 2-1 win over Sevilla in their Champions League quarter-final tie. Anchoring behind Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez, Martinez made the joint-most interceptions of any player on the pitch, while winning the joint-most aerial duels, making two tackles and committing two fouls to slow down the home side’s momentum on the counter-attack.
That anticipation is pivotal in the role alongside Kante – although we think of the Frenchman as a defensive midfielder first and foremost, he pushes high to hunt down the ball at times, so Chelsea need someone like Martinez with the sense and physicality to hold single-handed when necessary.
But there is one obvious difference between Martinez and Matic, which is why the former has spent more of his career at centre-half than in midfield. The 2010 World Cup winner is far less shrewd, economic and reliable on the ball, but Matic’s ability to dictate possession was probably the most underrated asset he offered Chelsea.
Martinez just isn’t as consistent on that front, completing only 75% of his passes against Sevilla, and in a two-man midfield alongside Kante that could become a real hindrance for the Blues – forcing their game to centre around the counter-attack rather than dominating the ball.
But valued at £36million by Transfermarkt and rarely exceeding a rotation role in Bayern’s squad since his 2012 move from Athletic Bilbao, Martinez remains a potentially attainable option for Chelsea this summer. So, Blues fans, do you think Martinez would make a good partner for Kante? Let us know by voting below…