Last week Barcelona completed the signing of Iñigo Martínez on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao, but what will the veteran central defender bring to the Barca side?
The 32-year-old will officially be unveiled this week, but the Basque man is already training with the first-team squad after completing his medical.
Martinez signed a two-year deal with a €400 million release clause, and the expectation is that he’ll play a key part in Barca’s effort to repeat as La Liga champions.
The first thing to note on the new signing is that he’s left-footed. The only other natural left-footer in the heart of Barca’s defence is Clement Lenglet, and the expectation is that he will leave to join Tottenham on a permanent transfer after spending last season on loan in North London.
Although Marcos Alonso was deployed as a centre-back at times last season, he’s more suited and more comfortable playing either the left-back or defensive left-midfielder role.
Having a natural left-footer to pair with the right-footed Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araújo will allow the game to flow more.
Dominance in the air
Since making his debut for Real Sociedad back in 2011, Martinez leads La Liga in headed clearances and duels won in the air.
He’s a dominant force at the back with the ball in the air, attacking every ball and showing real physicality.
He’s now made 883-headed clearances since his debut, and that ability in the air will prevent teams from trying to beat Barca with the long ball. Pair that with his 859 aerial duels won and it starts to paint quite the picture.
Comfortable on the ball
To play as a centre-back for Xavi you need to be comfortable on the ball. You also need to have the ability and confidence to play a variety of passes.
Since Xavi took control of the Catalan club, the attacking philosophy has changed slightly.
While the remnants of Tika-Taka football remain, Barcelona plays more long balls in an effort to exploit space as quickly as possible.
If you compare Barcelona to current Champions League trophy holders Manchester City, Barca’s passing sequences are shorter. If you compare how many of their moves involve 10+ passes you see a huge difference, Barca are 562 and City are at 766.
Martinex is comfortable passing at all three levels.
Since passing data started being tracked by FB reference in 2017, Martinez has completed 88.7% of his short passes, 87.0% of his medium passes and 58.9% of his long passes. Last year that long pass success rate was up at 63.4%.
Manchester City’s Ruben Dias is considered one of the best passing centre-backs in football, and his long pass success rate was 70.4% last year.
Martinez has over 450 professional appearances to his name including over 350 in La Liga.
That’s a whole lot of experience to call on. He’s seen every tactic, every formation, every type of forward.
He’s a renowned leader on and off the field and will bring communication to the back-line.
Marintez is also a fierce competitor, never backing down from a challenge and leading by example for younger players.