By Michael Harrold
When the FC Bayern München machine is purring, you hardly notice holding midfield player Martin Demichelis. Like Claude Makelele for Chelsea FC, while the spotlight is shining on his side he is happy to play in the shadows cast by more illustrious team-mates.
Remove the cog, however, and the machine breaks down, as Bayern discovered at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday. With Didier Drogba muscling in on Bayern's defence, Chelsea used the long ball to good effect, feeding off the flick-ons and knock-downs the Ivorian played into the space Demichelis would normally have made his own.
Demichelis, a converted centre-back, missed the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg through suspension, and without him Torsten Frings and Owen Hargreaves were unable to carry the defensive load between them. "I don't think the defenders should have to shoulder the blame [for the defeat] because the way I see it, we lacked the grit and tenacity in midfield," said a bemused Oliver Kahn, unaccustomed to being left so unprotected.
Bayern's uncertainty in midfield contrasted sharply with Chelsea's composure, where Makelele's positional sense and tough tackling blocked off the centre as a route for attack. The unsung Frenchman was solid and controlled, forcing Bayern's attacks to the wings and starving José Paolo Guerrero of possession with his uncompromising attention to support-man Hasan Salihamidzic.
"At Chelsea my job is defensive," Makelele said. "It is my life. I give." Frank Lampard is the obvious beneficiary of Makelele's disciplined defensive focus. The England midfield player collected Makelele's pass before swivelling to score Chelsea's third in the 4-2 victory.
But week in, week out Makelele's impact has been more subtle, providing the security net for Lampard to base his attacking game on. Centre-back John Terry too has grown in stature alongside the diminutive 32-year-old, aided by the veteran's protective shield in front of the back four.
Just as Makelele brings out the best in those around him, so too does 24-year-old Demichelis. "
Martin takes no prisoners when it comes to making clearances and shutting people down," grateful centre-back Robert Kovac said, perhaps mindful of the job the Argentinian did in freezing out Dennis Bergkamp against Arsenal FC in the previous round at Highbury. Since Demichelis cemented his place in the side at the turn of the year, Bayern have conceded just five times in the eleven matches he has played.
Offensively, meanwhile, Michael Ballack has thrived on the freedom he is afforded by Demichelis. "I had to play more defensively earlier this season," Ballack said. "It was a new position for me, but then I got injured and Demichelis came into this defensive position, so then I could play further forward. This is important and this situation is better for me."
Makelele, of course, is already a Champions League winner, and his experience will be a telling factor at the Olympiastadion. Makelele will come under more pressure with the return of Roy Makaay from injury, and with Demichelis back from suspension, Ballack's influence in midfield should grow. Bayern proved with their 3-1 win against Arsenal in the Round of 16, that they are a different proposition at home.
But Arsenal were uncharacteristically generous defensively that night - and Bayern are unlikely to find their latest English visitors in such giving mood. Certainly not with Makelele patrolling in front of his back four. Should Bayern break through, it is unlikely to be Demichelis that steals the headlines, but he won't mind as long as he has helped get the Bayern machine rolling again.
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