Why Height isn’t an Issue for Lisandro Martinez

Jordan Edmonds

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Why Height isn’t an Issue for Lisandro Martinez

Since Manchester United announced the signing of Argentinian centre-back Lisandro Martinez from Ajax earlier this summer, many have been quick to question if Martinez’s height would be an issue as a central defender in a physical league like the Premier League.

Despite being a crucial player under Erik ten Hag’s successful Ajax side and being named as the Player Of The Year for the Eredivisie champions last season, pundits such as Jamie Carragher, Graeme Souness and Gabby Agbonlahor have been sceptical about Martinez and pointed out his 5ft 9in frame as a huge weakness.

However, after four league appearances for the Red Devils, the man nicknamed the ‘Argentinian Butcher’ has recovered from a shaky start to prove the doubters wrong and has shown that size doesn’t necessarily matter.

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Physicality no Problem

Whilst the 1.75m Martinez is relatively small compared to other defenders, it doesn’t automatically mean that the Argentine is weak in the air. The 24-year-old has already demonstrated how his spring into the air along with the timing of his jumping makes him very adept at challenging in the air, with the stats to back it up so far in the Premier League.

After back-to-back Man Of The Match performances against Liverpool and Southampton, Martinez has impressed so far and has even been named as United’s Player of the Month for August.

When looking deeper into the stats, it’s even more clear that the lack of height makes no difference and Martinez ranks top in the aerial metrics. So far this season United’s new number six has an aerial success rate of 83%, winning six out of his seven duels in the air. It’s even more impressive when you compare that to the likes of Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly (68%), William Saliba (57%) and Ruben Dias (36%).

In the Southampton game alone, Martinez won all five of the aerial duels he contested – more than Koulibaly and Thiago Silva managed for Chelsea COMBINED against the Saints on Tuesday night.

Martinez also won 100% of his ground duels and made four interceptions as ten Hag’s men went on to claim the three points with an important clean sheet against the South Coast outfit. The consecutive MOTM awards have shown that his aggressive style, timing, and warrior-like determination makes him one of the best defenders in the league, regardless of how he literally measures up to the rest.

Varane Partnership

One of the reasons why Martinez has shone in recent weeks, may be somewhat down the new centre-back partnership that ten Hag has brought in. The Dutch tactician began the season with Harry Maguire and Martinez at the back, as the Red Devils slumped to demoralising defeats, first against Brighton and the 4-0 away hammering at the hands of Brentford.

Since then, from the big win against Liverpool, Raphael Varane has come in to replace the Englishman and partner Martinez. The pair were at the heart of a tremendous defensive performance in the second half against Liverpool, before getting United’s first away clean sheet in the Premier League since last December (vs Norwich) against Southampton on Saturday. Up to now, it’s been a match made in heaven, as both centre-backs have complimented each other’s style of play which allowed the other to play to his strengths.

Four-time Champions League winner Varane is the cool, calm and collected defender that has the height to win the aerial duels if needs be, whilst ‘The Butcher’ Martinez is the aggressor of the two that can mop up any loose balls and get blocks and tackles in with his hard-hitting approach. It’s early days yet, and they’ve still got a bit to go, but the pair could have a similar partnership to that of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, with similar playing styles to the legendary duo.

Struggle Against Haaland and Co.

Another assumption of Martinez and his height is that the Argentine will struggle against the likes of Erling Haaland of Man City and Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez. The two attackers are physical strikers that often bully their opponents and score mountains of goals in the process.

However, the height doesn’t necessarily mean that they will dominate Martinez. As shown throughout his time with Ajax, Martinez is capable of shutting the strikers out. Martinez’s Ajax faced Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League group stage games last season.

In both games, the Dutch outfit came out on top, winning 4-0 and 3-1. Haaland played all 90 minutes in 4-0 hammering at the Amsterdam ArenA in October, and as the various compilation videos show, struggled to get through the Argentine. Martinez made four tackles and four interceptions as ten Hag’s men dominated. Haaland didn’t play in the reverse fixture in Germany, but the only goal for the Bundesliga outfit was a Marco Reus penalty.

Martinez was also involved when Ajax faced Benfica and did a good job of pocketing Darwin Nunez in the first leg. The two Benfica goals came from an unfortunate Sebastien Haller own goal, as well as a tap-in from Roman Yaremchuck that came from the Ajax goalkeeper failing to deal with a shot from range. Nunez did manage to score in the away leg, after getting the better of Jurien Timber on a set-piece.

With many quick to speculate that Manchester United’s new signing will find it difficult to compete with Haaland, Nunez, and the rest of the dominant forwards, Martinez has shown previously how he can utilise his aggression to silence the big boys.

Martinez has already come against one physical handful in the form of Ivan Toney, and whilst the 6ft 1in striker was the target on the end of the tactical long balls against Martinez, the 4-0 hammering wasn’t down to just the United defender losing out. Martinez also held his own at times against Toney, with the Brentford forward himself claiming it was a fair battle.

Pundits have been swift to jump on the bandwagon and claim that Martinez isn’t tall enough to be a Premier League defender but has shown that height is no issue so far. The likes of Fabio Cannavaro (who was 5ft 9in), Carles Puyol (5ft 10in), Bobby Moore (5ft 10in), and Cesar Azpilicueta (5ft 10in) have all shown that you don’t necessarily need to be tall to be a world-class central defender.

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