Before the start of the season, Barcelona were linked with a lot of players to shore up the places in the team that needed stability, but no position was discussed more than the number 9 position.
Although that’s slot is being perfectly held down by Luis Suarez, the fact that he has had no backup or competition for the role for the past five seasons in which he has been a Barcelona player have started to tell on his performances for the Catalan giants.
The club had noticed this last season as they made their first forays since Suarez into the transfer window with the intention of signing a number 9, and were linked to a lot of players including Luka Jovic (now at Madrid) and Suarez’s countryman, Maxi Gomez (now at Valencia). However, they only ended up getting Antoine Griezmann to provide support upfront, but the Frenchman will likely play on the wings, a position that is already filled.
Over the international break, comments made by Beto Yaque, the agent of Inter Milan’s Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez, made the rounds in the media following the striker’s 16-minute hat-trick against Mexico on 9 September in an international friendly, taking his international tally to 12 goals in only 14 caps and making him the first Argentina player to score three goals against Mexico since 1930.
Martinez’s agent has been very impressed with his play and spoke to Argentine sports television channel TyC sports about his wish to see his client play with Argentina teammate Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
“It’d be wonderful to see him play with Leo Messi at Barcelona,” he said. “It’s great to see him play like that, so relaxed and happy. He has remarkable control in his first touch and that makes it very difficult for defenders to catch him.”
The 22-year old has not had any links to Barcelona in the media just yet, but a flashy international break could prove important in the establishment of said links as well as serve as an encouragement for the player who is just in his second season in European football to have a breakout club season.
Yaque also told TyC sports of the player:
“Lautaro is very humble. When I went to meet him at Bahia Blanca, it wasn’t easy to take him with me, as he was very close to his family and felt homesick. Fortunately, his parents trusted me. Before going to Inter, I told him he wouldn’t struggle to settle in, because I know that whatever Lautaro puts into his head, he achieves. It’s no mean feat to waltz into San Siro and play as if it’s your backyard.”
Martinez has been compared to fellow countryman, Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero, by the media and also by legendary Argentine striker Hernan Crespo because of a similarity in how they play. Seeing how Lautaro has been very effective for Argentina and putting his general goalscoring record while in the Argentine league into perspective should turn heads in the Barcelona scouting department, especially as Agüero was Barcelona’s first-choice option for the number 9 role before they settled for Suarez according to Barcelona’s former sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta in an interview to MARCA.
The comparisons with Agüero are not far-fetched. Martínez is quick, strong and has great spatial awareness. Like Aguero, he is sometimes regarded as an all-out centre forward, but can also play as a second striker off another striker, as he currently does in Antonio Conte’s new setup in Inter, due to his passing ability, tactical intelligence, vision, and his ability to receive passes with his back to the goal in order to hold up play. Both are also very good dribblers and are capable of shooting well from distance with either foot despite being right-footed.
However, as shown by the infographic above, Martinez is more tactically adept which makes him more useful in defending from the front. Martinez is an excellent high-presser and is a constant thorn in defender’s sides without the ball, unlike Agüero who doesn’t have to bother with defensive duties in Man City’s setup. This is where he is more similar to Suarez, although the Uruguayan is superior to him in this field.
Similar to both Agüero and Suarez, Martínez is a great poacher in the box, but like Suarez, wanders often into the midfield and exploits the blind spots in the defence to make runs into the box. He also has impressive off-the-ball movement and plays very well out wide like Suarez and this will complement Messi’s characteristic drifts into the middle, a similarity which also makes him difficult to track because he can pop up in dangerous positions.
The infographic above shows that the 22-year old Martinez will benefit greatly under Luis Suarez and can replace him effectively in the Barcelona squad, as both have a similar attribute trajectory, focusing on tactical and creative adeptness, qualities that Barcelona need in their strikers.
Another thing Martinez has in his favour is that he has played with Messi in the Argentina national team, and both shown a great understanding on the pitch.
Barcelona will definitely go into the transfer market again with the acquisition of a centre forward in mind, and Lautaro Martinez can be the answer they need.