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Benatia ready for quick return to Roma

Called "the real symbol of the new Roma" in his only season in the Italian capital, €26m centre-back Medhi Benatia is facing up to his past with FC Bayern München.

Medhi Benatia at his Bayern unveiling
Medhi Benatia at his Bayern unveiling ©Getty Images

Josep Guardiola has kept people guessing about FC Bayern München's personnel and formation this season – even more so than last – but defender Medhi Benatia seems a key part of his UEFA Champions League project.

Admittedly, the German title holders are only two games into the new European campaign, yet while the summer signing has started only one Bundesliga game, he has played all but five minutes in Group E. He is expected to be in the team again when Bayern run out at AS Roma on Tuesday, a match with extra special meaning for the 27-year-old: last term the Stadio Olimpico was home.

The Moroccan international was a mainstay during his 12 months with Roma, valued for his strong ball-winning ability and solid passing game – qualities that should let him thrive in Guardiola's system as well. He made 33 Serie A appearances, scoring five goals for the Giallorossi, and was firmly in their plans until Bayern came calling seeking cover for the long-term injury to Javi Martínez.

Offered a five-year contract and commanding a €26m fee, Benatia was thrust into the limelight – but it had been a long, tough road until then. A late developer, he was released by Olympique de Marseille at 21 and was playing in Ligue 2, with a failed trial at SC Freiburg fresh in the memory, when Udinese Calcio took a chance on him in 2010. They were rewarded as he developed into one of the most reliable centre-backs in Italy before moving to Roma after three seasons.

Benatia could come face to face with Totti
Benatia could come face to face with Totti©Getty Images

He swiftly went about confounding those who reckoned he was too expensive, at a reported €13.5m. He forged a great defensive partnership with Leandro Castan, with the Giallorossi conceding just one goal while winning their first ten Serie A games. "He is so strong," Castan said of Benatia. "He is also a great person. We talk a lot on the pitch, we understand each other perfectly."

When he registered two goals in a 4-0 victory against Calcio Catania in December, Gazzetta dello Sport wrote: "Rome is at his feet. Not only for the two goals he scored – he is the real symbol of the new Roma: hungry, strong, gutsy."

However, his stay in the capital was not destined to be a long one, with Bayern convinced that Benatia had all the necessary attributes. Indeed, he is well-versed in different systems (a boon under Guardiola), gives no quarter at the back and has a 1.91m frame that he can bring to bear in both penalty boxes.

His settling-in period has been hampered by niggles and he is still searching for rhythm, but what he lacks in match fitness he will surely make up for with the motivation that comes from facing former colleagues. Gervinho, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanić certainly know what to expect; soon, you get the sense, we all will.

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