This summer, we saw quite a shift in Inter Milan’s side. With new manager Antonio Conte bringing in a new era at the club, the Italian giants have their eyes on the big one: the Scudetto. Massive changes came through over the summer as Conte looked to make his mark on his new side. There was not a bigger talking point than club captain Mauro Icardi’s fall from grace. Icardi went from the side’s talisman, one who discussed on multiple occasions the prospect of following in his compatriot Javier Zanetti’s footsteps, to being totally phased out of the side by the end of last campaign.
One particular player made a massive contribution to the club’s confidence that not only could they make such a decision, but thrive in the aftermath, and that was Lautaro Martínez. The 22-year-old Argentine was brought in during the previous summer of 2018 from Racing Club in Argentina. The highly-rated forward was brought in with massive expectations. As we would come to find out, he has lived up to every one of them.
In this tactical analysis scout report, we will take an in-depth look at Martínez. This analysis will go into his first season at Inter Milan and his inconsistent form, before looking into this season and his rise to prominence in the eyes of every major club in Europe. He has found his feet, and along with the help of Conte’s new system and tactics, looks set to challenge Juventus for their first Serie A title in years.
First season struggles at Inter
In Martínez’s first season in Italy, he struggled to get into the side for large periods of the campaign. Luciano Spalletti’s preferred set up used a 4-2-3-1 formation. In this, he preferred Icardi upfront and a natural midfielder in the number 10 role behind the sole forward. Due to this, Martínez was often left on the bench to make cameo performances with the main idea of giving Icardi rest.
Looking into the second half of the season, Icardi’s issues off of the pitch gave Martínez the ability to get an extended run in the side and look to show why he was brought in the previous summer. In Spalletti’s tactics, the young Argentine often drifted in and out of matches. This was down to one major reason: the manager’s emphasis on possession play meant that often times opponents sat deep against this Inter Milan side. This limited the space Martínez had to make runs. Along with this, he was often left isolated due to the wingers and number 10 dropping into deeper positions in an attempt to gain possession, and the side consistently struggled to break opponents down.
Another struggle from last season was the stylistic change between the outgoing Icardi and Martínez. When Inter struggled to break down a deep block, an effective tactic they were able to use was working possession down the wings and looking to find Icardi in the air with crosses. The former Inter player is one of the world’s best in the air and scored a large amount of his goals for the Italian side with his aerial ability.
While Martínez is adept at using his head from crosses, this is not his strongest trait. Due to his height, sides were largely able to mark him out of matches because they were able to place two centre-halves on the Argentine and even drop a central midfielder to help cover at times. Above you can see an example of a match last season against Udinese. The home side is set up well to deal with any threat as Inter take possession into the wide area. Martínez does not have the room to be able to make his quick runs in behind the defensive line.
This season’s statistical improvements
This season’s shift has brought some statistical increases in key areas of Martínez’s game. This section will take a look at these and the main points that are behind them, which will be looked at in detail in this analysis.
A major part of Martínez’s game is his ability with the ball at his feet. He is a quick dribbler who can create space for himself when in possession. This campaign, the Argentine is averaging 5.29 dribbles per game, completing 47% of them. Both of these numbers are up from last season, where he averaged 4.38 per game at a 44% success rate. His progressive runs have almost doubled, going from 0.69 to 1.35. These increases in dribbles and runs have allowed Martínez to get into more and better shooting opportunities. His shots per match have jumped from 3.18 last season to 4.41 so far in the 2019/20 campaign.
These lead into the number nine’s most significant increase in this season under Conte. Averaging 0.42 goals per game with an xG of 0.52 under Spalletti, these numbers have risen dramatically this season. Martínez is averaging 0.67 goals per game, in line with an xG of 0.66 per 90.
Some of the other major statistical jumps we have seen in Martínez’s game this campaign have been on the defensive side of the game. Conte requires a greater amount of defensive contribution than Spalletti of last season. The former Chelsea manager’s 3-5-2 formation easily transitions into a 5-3-2 when out of possession or protecting a lead, and the two strikers are an essential part of the initial press. This season, Martínez’s defensive duels have increased from 2.95 to 4.36. His interceptions are up to 2.18 from the 1.57 of last season, and his recoveries follow a similar trend, rising from 1.8 to 2.39. The Argentine’s work rate is essential in his ability to effectively lead this defensive system from the front.
The biggest skill Martínez possesses, and what Conte needs the most in one of his strikers, is his off-the-ball movement. The young Argentine is often compared to his compatriot Sergio Agüero. The two both have deadly instincts in and around the box when they get opportunities to score. However, the way the two go about finding these chances varies quite significantly.
When asking defenders about the Manchester City talisman, a common theme you will hear deals with his often-nonchalant movement. The striker has found his scoring chances through finding small spaces in time to make quick darts in and out of defender’s range. Before these times, Agüero tends to be rather stagnant, seeming almost uninterested in the match at times. Nowadays, Pep Guardiola’s Aguero is much more mobile, due to the requests the Spaniard puts on his number nines, but this theme has been consistent throughout the City legend’s career.
Martínez, on the other hand, is quite different. When watching the attacking play for Inter Milan, you will notice he is constantly moving. He is always looking to get onto the blindside of his defender, with the view of forcing the defender to be reactive rather than proactive to his movements. This tactic has benefited greatly from Conte’s system that has been implemented this campaign, and a major reason why he is having the successful season we are witnessing.
Conte’s system differs from Spaletti’s of last season in a number of ways. One of the main points is the drop in possession emphasis. Inter Milan’s 3-5-2 system will often drop in to a 5-3-2 in order to create a deep block that is extremely difficult to break down. At the top of the set-up, Martínez is allowed the ability to use his best abilities to create opportunities for his side to break on the counter-attack. His intelligence with forward runs and willingness to drop in to combine with teammates as the side look to get forward allow Inter Milan’s attack to pose a serious threat in every match they come into.
In the image you see above, we see these two abilities combined in Inter Milan’s match away to Barcelona. Martínez pulls away from his defensive marker to provide a forward passing option for Stefano Sensi, who is working in the wide left area of the pitch. His quick drop from his normal position on the back of the centre-half allows him the time and space to take a touch after receiving possession and drop it back into Marcelo Brozović. The Croatian then drives a pass to the other side of the pitch to the feet of Antonio Candreva.
As the side moves forward, Martínez slowly moves back into his position on the blindside of Clément Lenglet. The defender has got his focus on possession that is being held in the wide position. Acknowledging this, Martínez reaches the box and then makes a quick run across the face of the French defender and into the space between the two Barcelona centre-halves. Candreva plays a perfect cross into the middle for the striker, who sees his header saved brilliantly by Marc-André ter Stegen.
Continuing in this match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Martínez’s intelligence can be seen again in the build-up to the Italian side’s only goal of the contest. Below you see an image of the attack as it first starts to begin to develop. As the initial pass comes forward, Lenglet misreads the situation and steps out of the defensive line.
Martínez recognizes the space this has left in between Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto. Instinctively, the attacker shifts his body positioning in the opposite direction and shifts into the middle of this space left open. A pass is made forward behind the defensive line and Martínez has created enough space for himself to get on the end of this pass and in on goal to put Inter up 1-0 in the match.
One major benefit from this season for Martínez has been the transition into a two-striker formation. This is a regular feature in Conte’s systems, with the midfield 3 in this 3-5-2 system often staying deep due to the structure of the formation, the two-striker formation allows for combination opportunities in the higher areas of the pitch. Out of possession, they are able to provide options for one another, while trying to look to break forward or look to hold up play until the rest of the side has had the time to move forward. In possession, the two upfront work together and off of the other’s movements as they look for space.
Martínez has thrived in this system this campaign and Inter Milan have reaped the rewards of it. Between him and his usual partner in Romelu Lukaku, they have amassed 27 goals and 4 assists for the Italian side. On top of these numbers, they are constantly involved in the build-up to about every goal Inter score, with and without the ball.
In Inter’s 2-1 victory over SPAL, the two strikers showcased a perfect example of the tactical effects this system provides. In the image you can see above, Martínez gains possession from a turnover in a dangerous area for Inter. Immediately, he takes off forward with Lukaku alongside him. Due to the unanticipated turnover, SPAL are left quickly trying to bring numbers back into the defensive line.
Lukaku and Martínez have shown a great understanding with one another since they started playing together at the start of this season. The communication between the two is almost telepathic and can be seen here. Martínez, with the ball, makes a run down the centre of the SPAL defence, before cutting into the right space. Lukaku acknowledges the opportunity for this run and makes a diagonal run across Martínez into the left space. This forces the defender initially marking Martínez to shift to cover the run from the Belgian. Most importantly, though, this run has caused the defender closest to Martínez now to have a poor body position to deal with the threat of the Argentine. Having to shift his body totally around to try and mark the attacker, Martínez is able to use his speed to get around the edge and find enough space to put a finish into the bottom left corner of the net.
Killer instincts in the box
One of the most important aspects of a strikers’ game is their ability to finish off chances for their sides. Martínez has shown this ability on numerous occasions for Inter Milan, specifically during this campaign. Already close to doubling his output for the Italian side last season – 13 goals so far this year, compared to 7 through the entirety of last term – Martínez is showing a killer instinct in the box that the top club’s in the world all covet in their leading number nine.
Martínez has consistently shown a knack for finding areas of space to drift into to get on the end of attacking movements. Below we can see an image of Lukaku in possession. The Belgian did not have any forward options, so chose to go back before finding a pass out wide to Antonio Candreva. Notice Martínez’s position on the edge of the penalty area, in close vicinity to Candreva who receives the pass.
Martínez immediately looks for space in the box. His run takes him into a more central position, and he uses the SPAL defender’s attention turning to the wide areas where the ball has moved to his advantage. The Argentine spins off the back of his marker and finds a wide-open area right at the penalty spot to get on the end of Candreva’s pinpoint delivery.
We can also see this ability in Inter’s match against Sassuolo. Within the first two minutes of the match, the league leaders began pressing the home side and won a corner. Sassuolo was able to clear the initial delivery before the ball came out to Brozović. Recognising this, Martínez drifts into a wide position to create separation between himself and his marker and present a passing option for his teammate.
Brozović plays a first-time pass into the feet of the number nine. Here, Martínez uses his natural ability to push his defender back onto their heels. With a quick touch inwards, the Argentine positions himself to curl a beautiful finish into the far corner to give his side the lead.
Lautaro Martínez initially struggled with life in Italy with Inter Milan, and some people began to wonder if he would suffer the same fate as the Brazilian Gabriel Barbosa. The forward starred for Tite in the national team but failed to make an impact after making his big move to Europe. Martínez, however, did not follow in these footsteps. The Argentine has fully adapted to life in Italy and is leading Inter Milan’s title charge this campaign.
With impressive performances coming week in, week out, a host of clubs have shown an interest in securing the forward’s services beyond this season. Barcelona and Manchester City are two of the sides that have been watching his development in Milan with serious interest. For now, though, Martínez is happy in Conte’s side. He has built a bond with strike partner Lukaku on and off the pitch, and their close relationship is paying dividends for the side as a whole.