Centre-back Mehdi Benatia's transfer from AS Roma to FC Bayern München has been confirmed – and while he will play a big part in Josep Guardiola's plans, he was only signed due to an injury problem.
Guardiola is known for prioritising numerical superiority in midfield and never ceases to look for new ideas on how to achieve just that. For years, he has been eyeing the possibility of playing a back three and, at times, tried out the formation at his old club FC Barcelona.
Now, at Bayern, he is making it permanent. During the German Cup final in May, he tried this system against Borussia Dortmund and won 2-0. However, a couple of weeks ago, BVB trumped Bayern and their back three with the same result in the German Super Cup game.
Guardiola's defensive triumvirate is very different to the formation which was so in vogue during the recent FIFA World Cup in Brazil, when the back three became five in defence. Bayern and Guardiola's idea of playing is an attacking one, using the back three for even more aggressive pressing and counter-pressing.
That, at least, is the theory, and the defeat in the Super Cup against BVB did not hurt nearly as much as Javi Martínez tearing cruciate ligaments in the same match. Guardiola's compatriot was expected to play a central part in the new Bayern defence; he excelled in that role in pre-season.
"Javier being sidelined would be a big problem, as he has been very good so far," Guardiola said directly after the match. The Spaniard was now left with three operational centre-backs in Jérôme Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Dante – not enough.
"We need a new player," was Guardiola's comment immediately after the Martínez diagnosis. Diego Godín and Benatia were the candidates whose names were thrown around in public and, after some tough negotiations, the 27-year-old Moroccan arrived for a reported fee of almost €30m.
"We are very convinced by Benatia," said Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer. "
He is a robust defender, strong in the challenge, with very good ball-playing skills."
Benatia needed just one season at Roma, in which he stabilised a previously leaky defence and convinced with his technique, to catch the eye of Guardiola. "Mr Guardiola definitely wanted me," said Benatia. "I am happy the move to Bayern München worked out.
"It took a while and, in between, I thought that the move might fail to materialise. I am now playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world."
Given Martínez's absence, Bayern choose a hybrid back three/back four for their opening 2-1 Bundesliga defeat of VfL Wolfsburg. Now, with Benatia there, expect a back three to be worked on thoroughly and employed regularly over the coming weeks, not least when Bayern are rematched with Roma on 21 October and 5 November in the UEFA Champions League.
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