FEATURE | One To Watch: Lautaro Martínez

In the history of modern Football, Argentina have always been blessed with great strikers such as Guillermo Stabile, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo and Lionel Messi. Now, however, some of the country’s emerging superstars have the chance to replicate the past and build the future. One such name is Inter Milan striker, Lautaro Martinez.

Nicknamed ‘The Bull’, the prolific Martinez was selected for Argentina’s preliminary 2018 squad but the then 20-year-old was omitted from the final call-up but, since his country returned from Russia empty-handed, Lautaro hasn’t looked back. With the likes of Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala struggling to perform for the national team, the in-form and ever-developing Martinez is now the undisputed starter alongside Messi.

Although Martinez’s only real competitor, Paulo Dybala, was also included in the World Cup squad after injury, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni prefers a more no-nonsense striker, and not another creative player, in his attack. Martinez perfectly suits the Albiceleste playing style and played a crucial role in Argentina’s Copa America triumph of last year, featuring in all matches except against Paraguay in the group stages, scoring three times in the tournament. The striker also featured regularly in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies, demonstrating to his country and manager why he should be a starter.

Lautaro will play as a fairly rigid striker for Argentina, similar to his role for Inter. Scaloni has made his side quite flexible in terms of formation and, taking into consideration their Copa America triumph and the recent friendlies, Argentina have utilised a 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. Scaloni’s side, full of creativity, possesses the ability to quickly apply pressure on the opposition but someone is needed to deal the final blow, that’s where Martinez comes in.

While Lautaro was far from his best last season, although still scoring 25 goals and assisting four more across all competitions, he has fared well this year, considering Inter’s slow start to the 2022/23 season. Often, players experience a slight dip in form during the pre-World Cup period, perhaps in order to keep themselves fit for the tournament, but Lautaro’s seven goals and four assists thi sterm show he’s remained a threat.

Despite his diminutive stature, El Toro’s relentless attitude, tenacious strength, clinical finishing ability and aerial prowess will no doubt be a crucial asset for the South American giants. However, Scaloni tends to not overplay his forwards, so the Inter man will certainly be subbed off later on in the second halves of Group C games in Qatar.

Argentina’s great asset lies in Messi, not only because of his genius but often also because the opposition is pre-occupied by containing him, leaving space for clinical players like Martinez to apply lethal incisive finishes – this is a strategy with which Scaloni has succeeded before.

While pundits and fans alike hail arguably the greatest player of all time in Messi, a man on a mission at this World Cup, a fair amount of responsibility also lies on the shoulders of players like Martinez who approach their first World Cup. Following in the footsteps of Diego Maradona, Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta, the time is now for 25-year-old Lautaro Martinez to showcase himself on the World Stage.

Trambak Bhattacherjee

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