After lengthy negotiations with Ajax, Manchester United have signed 24-year-old Argentina centre-back Lisandro Martinez for a reported fee of €57m plus a further €10m in future add-ons.
United’s first choice was Martinez’s team-mate Jurien Timber, who can also play on the right, but once the player refused a move after speaking to Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal, Erik ten Hag moved for Martinez.
Martinez’s height of 5ft 9in is certainly short by conventional standards for a central defender, but his ability to read the game and his aerial ability are excellent.
He is an intelligent footballer whose skills and athleticism frequently help him win the ball away from the opposition with precision tackling and an aggressive approach to winning the ball.
Lisandro Martinez is an excellent passer
According to the pizza’s percentile chart, his mastery of possession is his greatest asset. Martinez is an excellent defender of the ball – a blessing for any team that dominates the ball.
This attribute not only helps with team building, but his ability to pass and distribute the ball serves as an additional offensive weapon for his team.
He completed 81.83 passes per 90 last season, the highest among Eredivisie centre-backs, which highlights his superb passing ability. He completed 14.4 of 90 progressive passes, the most among centre-backs. His 28.88 forward passes also topped 98% of Eredivisie centre-backs.
One of the main reasons for United’s poor construction system last season was their centre-backs’ weakness in ball progression. Harry Maguire completed 3.08 of 90 progressive passes, the highest for any United centre-back but relatively average for Premier League quality.
Therefore, in terms of ball progression, Martinez is much better than other United centre-backs. Based on that, he could be Ten Hag’s key outlet to keep United’s vertical play going.
Another great attribute of Martinez’s profile is his exceptional long passing ability. Last season in the league, he completed 7.46 long passes per 90 with 61% accuracy. Moreover, he tried to spread the ball towards the midfielders or switch the game to the right side of the field.
Martinez could unlock United’s attack
Much of Martinez’s serendipitous creation came from long line-breaking passes. He directed most of his long passes towards the wingers.
United could score plenty of goals with their game-changing final balls to Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford, who could make runs behind the opposition defence.
Martinez made 7.36 progressive runs per 90, the highest among Eredivisie defenders. Most of his progressive staves were through the center channel.
As a result, he frequently fell under pressure from opposing attackers. But his downhill dribbling skills and ability to make quick turns helped him break the opponent’s first line of pressure and continue the build-up.
An aggressive, no-frills defender
Martinez’s greatest strength is his ability to defend aggressively. His tackling success rate, quick interception ability and winning rate of the ball in the opposition’s half all reflect how good he is as an aggressive defender.
If the opposing striker drops deep to receive the ball, Martinez immediately rushes after him and charges aggressively, preventing him from spinning. It is also apparent from his defensive action card that he often prefers to push high off his line to participate in defensive challenges.
When the opponent tries to attempt long balls towards their attacker, they stand in front of the targeted man and attempt to intercept the ball.
His aggressive behavior sometimes opens up free spaces for him behind the line. However, due to his speed and ability to recover the ball quickly, even in such cases the opponent’s attackers cannot gain many advantages.
Due to his short stature, Martinez is expected to be weak in the air. But he had a 66.15 per cent aerial success rate in the league last season, better than 93 per cent for centre-backs in the Eredivisie. The main reason for his success in the air is his ability to quickly anticipate the decisions of opposing attackers.
Martinez’s performance in the previous season elevated him to one of the most sought-after centre-backs in European football.
From United’s perspective, he is an ideal addition to their squad who can bring new dynamism to the team.
However, it will be interesting to see how quickly Martinez adapts to the fast and physical Premier League style of play and how much he improves the Man Utd squad.