Ajax centre-back Lisandro Martinez seems poised to join former manager Erik ten Hag at Man United this summer. With the Red Devils having wrapped up a swift deal for Tyrell Malacia, United are said to have tabled an offer worth €45m including add-ons for the centre-back.
Despite genuine interest from Arsenal, the Red Devils have moved in as firm favourites for the Argentine’s signature, with the club having matched Ajax’s valuation for the defender alongside him being keen on a reunion with Ten Hag.
Named Ajax’s player of the season for the 2021/22 campaign, the 24-year-old made waves across Europe, registering himself as a prominent talent ready to make an ambitious move this summer. While Man United initially prioritised a deal for his centre-back partner, Jurrien Timber, Ten Hag is said to have shifted his attention to Martinez following the former’s decision to remain at Ajax for another season.
With Man United evidently pursuing the targets listed by Ten Hag as opposed to those proposed by the scouting team at the club, an interest in Martinez signals a shift in the club’s approach vis-à-vis their recruitment strategy. Having undergone notable development alongside registering exceptional numbers at the Dutch club, the Argentinian centre-back seems likely to move to Manchester provided Arsenal don’t indulge themselves in a bidding war for the player.
A Versatile Figure
While not the most intimidating of physical presences on the pitch, Martinez’s strengths lie in his revered technical ability and reading of the game. Capable of playing in a central defensive role, left-back, or as a centre-back, the 24-year-old boasts exceptional versatility, having been amongst the most consistent defenders in the Eredivisie last season.
Moreover, having thrived in a system dependent on technically sound defenders, Martinez is likely to be a seamless fit into any top-side in the Premier League. Regarded to be the best ball-playing centre-back in the Dutch top division alongside possessing a tenacious spirit in his defensive engagement, the Argentinian emerges as a welcome addition to United’s backline.
Known for his excellent passing range and progression while in possession, Martinez establishes himself as a reliable modern-day centre-back. Ranking in the 99th percentile for progressive and successful passes, the Argentinian is known to consistently find teammates through his long and short-range passing alongside possessing a commendable vision for the same.
For instance, as evident from the figure below (Fig. 1.0), the 24-year-old remains exceptional in picking out teammates in progressive areas of the pitch whilst also retaining a high-efficiency rate vis-à-vis volume of passes on the pitch.
Further, the Argentinian has also shown to be adept at setting the tempo for Ajax from the defensive third. Ranking in the 96th and 95th percentile for long passes and progressive carries per 90 minutes respectively, alongside registering an 88% pass accuracy throughout his three seasons at Ajax, the 24-year-old has proven to be an attacking threat owing to his ability to make runs down the wing and cover the final third, all whilst being adept at providing his teammates with shot-creating chances (99th percentile per 90) and goal-scoring opportunities.
As evident from the figure below (Fig. 1.1), the Argentinian is known for adding high attacking value whilst being extremely reliable in carrying out his defensive duties efficiently.
Moreover, known for his composure in possession, Martinez boasts a serene ability to dictate play from the backline. Besides his exceptional reading of the game, the centre-back’s positional awareness and ability to regain possession have seen him get hold of the ball in progressive areas of the pitch vis-à-vis his position.
Further, although being incredibly one-footed, the centre-back emerges as press-resistant owing to his dribbling skills whilst also defending his side and the space out wide efficiently.
To conclude, whilst being a creative defender, the 24-year-old has proven to be exceptional at sniffing out danger while carrying out his defensive duties, resulting in him retaining possession in promising areas of the pitch (Fig 1.2, 1.3); in turn, supplementing his strengths in triggering transitions for his team to move forward.
An Intelligent Defender
Besides his versatility in contributing to the team’s attacking output, Martinez retains the tenacity of an aggressive defender whilst boasting exceptional numbers in nullifying potential dangers for his team. Unafraid of engaging in a duel or lunging into a tackle, the Argentinian ranks in the 99th percentile for the latter whilst having won 3.1 of his ground duels per 90 minutes last season.
Also, being a defender more likely to intercept the passing lanes as opposed to being drawn out of position for engaging with an opposition player, Martinez’s application reflects in his numbers; ranking him in the 90th percentile for ball recoveries.
As evident from the image above (Fig 1.4), the 24-year-old centre-back boasts an undeniable ability in registering successful defensive actions. For instance, despite his relatively short height for a centre-back (5’9), Martinez is aerially dominant; known to jump and intercept passes and shots in his half.
Moreover, having won 71% of his aerial duels alongside registering 1.9 interceptions per game, the centre-back has proven to be aggressive in his application besides being the one to sniff out dangers on most occasions.
Further, known to be precise and aggressive in winning his 1v1 ground duels, the defender also serves as a reliable counter-stopper owing to his relative quickness. Martinez is known to mostly pressurise his opponents in the middle-third, having won 4.75 of the same per 90 minutes. Additionally, owing to his discipline and understanding of positional play, the Argentinian’s execution of his defensive actions supplements the success rate, as evident from the images (Fig. 1.5, 1.6).
Martinez also outshines Man United captain Harry Maguire across various metrics. Although the England international remains renowned for his aerial prowess, Martinez boasts superior aerial ability as evident from the images below (Fig. 1.7,1.8).
Additionally, having excelled across defensive actions in the six-yard box and the defensive third alongside being adept at recovering the ball in promising areas of the pitch, Martinez emerges as a suitable candidate to function as a left-sided centre-back for United under Ten Hag next season.
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With the player most likely to move to Old Trafford, a period of adaptation could certainly see him struggle against elite opposition in the Premier League. However, having shown undeniable consistency in his performance alongside excellent development in the understanding of his role, Lisandro Martinez is likely to shine at Man United in the long run, provided he replicates and improves upon his exploits at Ajax in recent seasons.
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