After a bidding war which saw the price for Ajax’s Argentine defender rise and rise, Lisandro Martinez is on his way to Manchester United. It’s no huge surprise to see Erik ten Hag going back to his former club as he looks to bring the Manchester outfit into the 21st century. As a former Ajax manager, Ten Hag will be looking to institute a certain style of play, and having defenders who are comfortable on the ball will be a massive part of that.
Manchester United’s recruitment has been nothing short of a mess in recent years, with players bought for a number of managers, and no clear playing style to build the squad around. Ten Hag will be tasked with fixing that situation, and bringing in a defender like Martínez is an excellent start.
Comfortable in the centre of the defence, on the left, or playing as a deep midfielder, Martínez is an excellent passer, and his ability to progress the ball would make a huge difference to the team in possession. Although he can play as a left-back, Luke Shaw is one of Man United’s better players on the ball, and there are smarter areas to field Martínez.
Ten Hag’s side are likely to rank better on the Betdaq betting exchange if the Argentine features in the centre of the pitch. He could play in midfield, and is certainly more technically competent than the likes of Scott McTominay, but the signing of Christian Eriksen may mean that area of the pitch is already taken care of.
That being the case, Martínez may end up playing in the centre of defence. He would be a natural fit as the left-sided centre back, and would most likely partner Harry Maguire, who could shift onto his natural right side. With Victor Lindelöf also an option, Manchester United would go a long way to addressing one of their weaknesses in recent years – their inability to progress the ball from deep.
However, some have questioned Martínez’s suitability for playing in the centre of a Premier League defence. Martínez certainly doesn’t have the physique of a traditional English centre back, and at a height of 1.75 metres, or 5’9”, many United fans have expressed concerns about how well Martínez will cope with the physicality of English football.
While the concern is understandable, it begs the questions of how well height correlates with aerial ability. Tim Cahill was widely regarded as one of the best attackers of an aerial ball in the 21st century, and the Australian stood at 5’10”. From a defensive point of view, Ben Mee won a higher percentage of aerial duels than any other central defender in the Premier League last season, and the Burnley man doesn’t reach 6’0”.
In addition, a defender’s goal in an aerial duel isn’t necessarily to definitively win the ball. Although that’s the desired outcome, all a defender needs to achieve is putting off the attacker to the extent that they aren’t able to control the ball, or head it cleanly.
While Martínez’s physique likely puts him at a disadvantage, his intelligence as a defender should allow him to mitigate that to a large degree. It’s certainly still a risk, but it’s clearly a risk that Ten Hag feels comfortable taking, given everything else Martínez brings to the team.