Lisandro Martínez has been an absolute revelation at Manchester United since Erik ten Hag brought him in from Ajax last summer.
A much criticised £55 million signing at the time – being an undersized centre-back who had no experience in one of Europe’s strongest leagues – Lisandro Martínez has exceeded the expectations even of some more bullish fans in his first year in Manchester under Erik ten Hag and partnering Raphaël Varane.
It has been a while since a signing won the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful in such a way, and if one asked Manchester United fans right now they would probably find it tough to imagine him being even better.
But so far United have limited what the player affectionately known as “Licha” can do and in this upcoming season, he has the potential to go up a level or two.
Lisandro Martínez was signed for his ball-playing attributes before anything else – he is the best centre-back in England in this regard. United so far have not been able to play as a proper possession-based side for a variety of reasons.
Last season, the defensive line often had to remain quite deep and United would go long periods of soaking up pressure in their own third, due to not having the foundations in place to play higher.
Erik ten Hag has now signed a new goalkeeper and midfielder, addressing arguably the two biggest transfer needs in United’s team already. It looks increasingly likely that Rasmus Højlund will be a United player before the season starts, addressing the other urgent need United had this summer.
This means that the Dutchman can now implement a system closer to the one he envisions his Manchester United team playing, and Martínez is possibly going to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this system change.
United will be dominating possession and territory much more. This gives the Argentine more touches of the ball, and more opportunities to pick out forward passes. The structure of the team, and the movements ahead of him from players like Mason Mount, will increase the variety of passes he can play too, compared to last season.
Martínez will also have the opportunity to showcase more of his ball-carrying qualities, which so far we have only seen glimpses of (and often in situations where he has received the ball from his goalkeeper in a difficult situation and been forced to work his way out of it).
We have seen some of these longer carries higher up the field so far in pre-season, and they do a good job of distorting opposition structures.
An idea has been pushed around online that Martínez will not be able to handle defending in a high line, usually by Arsenal fans.
The Argentine can at times struggle in wider channels when isolated and is not the most powerful player; but he excels at following strikers deeper and stopping them from turning and doing damage with his aggression, intensity and smart use of his body. For the same reason, he is a stronger dueller than given credit for. His reading of play allows him to kill off transitions well.
Also, he is less at risk of being exposed playing higher up the field in a more ball-dominant side than he is being sat in his box having to deal with dangerous crosses as a 5-foot 9-inch centre-back. That is a fairly logical conclusion to come to.
Most importantly, United’s structure will better hide his flaws and the fact that they’ll be playing higher up the field and dominating the ball more will mean he has less defending to do. Martínez is one of the most important players when it comes to making this a reality too, due to his aforementioned strength in possession.
Lisandro Martínez has been absolutely killing it at Manchester United, and for this reason, he is a fan-favourite.
But ‘The Butcher’ is only just getting started.
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