The ‘Butcher of Amsterdam’ is finally here, but what will he actually offer Erik ten Hag’s new Manchester United team?
It appeared as though a centre-back wasn’t at the top of the list before the summer window, at least to most of the United fanbase, but Ten Hag’s courting of Martinez and Jurrien Timber showed he wanted a centre-back comfortable when progressing attacks.
It is definitely worth analysing Martinez as a player and where he’ll fit in with Manchester United, including discussing the much debated topics of whether he is too short to be a Premier League centre-back and whether he can play as a central defensive midfielder:
Below is a comparison of Martinez’s statistics to some of the best defenders in the Premier League who are quintessential in the build-up of attacks
Even with Martinez playing in Eredivisie, what sticks out immediately is his remarkably high statistics in progressive passes and progressive carries per 90. What this basically means is from deep, Martinez is excellent at either passing the ball over 15 yards breaking through the lines or extremely comfortable at carrying the ball out from defence and he does both of these frequently.
Here he is in comparison to the Maguire-Lindelöf partnership in the year United came 2nd in the Premier League the ‘peak’ of the partnership.
If you fondly remember, Maguire was frequently seen bombing up the pitch carrying the ball from United’s defence. The statistics highlight how much of an attacking weapon Lisandro Martinez becomes when beginning an attacking, shot-creating move.
Paired with Maguire or perhaps Raphael Varane, Ten Hag will have two progressive centre-backs, who can start attacking structures in build-up passing to midfield or carrying the ball up the pitch.
A huge problem, probably since the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer days, where United are poor at building attacks in a formulated manner becomes easier with Martinez as a centre-back.
It was a common sight over the last few seasons to see United not really know how to properly get the ball from defence to attack, dilly-dallying in defence before giving it away or attempting to release one of the attackers in the hopes something magically happens.
In terms of addressing whether Martinez will play as a central defensive midfielder, he played in the role for Ajax in the 19-20 season 15 times but it is highly likely he will play in central defence. Timber partnered Martinez in Ajax’s defence for the majority of the 2021-22 season before the Argentine missed the end with a muscle injury.
Passing and ball carrying
He possesses a fantastic ability to clip passes directly from defence over the top for forwards to get on the end of, something Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jadon Sancho could benefit from.
Bar a confident Maguire, United lack a defender who has a range of passing that can create chances with long balls, but also spray it wide to stretch the play.
There is a certain fearlessness and confidence in his game when ball-carrying. He doesn’t run with the ball in a straight line aimlessly, Martinez has an excellent burst of pace taking out opposition players as they commit in the tackle.
A skilful approach helps carry the ball a great level of distance, do not at all be surprised if you find him close to the opposition penalty area in attacks attempting to dribble past defenders. He’s highly capable of effectively keeping the ball from players with neat little touches ensuring he doesn’t lose the ball out of position.
One particular game this past season at Leeds United away, Victor Lindelöf was doing something similar. Picture this but more on a game by game basis. United will gain a defender who in attack can do what defenders like Antonio Rudiger and Joel Matip do, becoming an extra man in attack as the opposition attempts to stop a defender travelling with the ball, dragging them out of position in attempting to make a tackle opening up gaps for other attackers to exploit.
Ten Hag commented on him being a ‘warrior’ with the strength he possesses unafraid to barge players off the ball be it with or without the ball.
Martinez has a similarly proactive approach out of possession when defending, preferring to engage opponents high up the pitch, catching them cold when dribbling or when a move is in it’s middle phase, killing the attack off before it becomes a threat. He can often be seen galloping out of position but this is normally done when there is someone covering for him.
However, this approach never really feels clumsy or overtly enthusiastic. Maguire for example has a weakness when trying to win the ball in situations he doesn’t always need to or engaging players that end up beating him on the half turn with a clever jink. Martinez’s approach is robust but measured, normally winning the ball.
Of course, the Premier League is a different beast altogether in terms of physicality and the level of players he will be coming up against, so this is something he may have to fine tune because having two centre-backs advancing and enjoying to win the ball with their first tackle may leave United extremely vulnerable.
Much has been made of the Argentinian's height at 5,9 and dealing with strikers like Michail Antonio or Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but Martinez makes up for his slight lack of traditional height with his ability to disrupt attackers rather than needing to outjump them.
In truth there aren’t too many teams that actually have methods of attacking based around long balls, as just because you are slightly shorter doesn’t mean you don’t have a good leap.
All in all, Martinez is a defender that will bring technical excellence with a forward-thinking approach leading out from the back, something we are seeing more and more often where just knowing how to defend is not good enough anymore. It’s a signing that Ten Hag clearly wanted and a player he knows, even if the move doesn’t work out, at least we have the knowledge at board level that the manager was backed with a signing of his choice.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
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