From Liniers to Racing Club to Inter Milan, there has always been one thing that has remained consistent with Lautaro ‘El Toro’ Martínez: goals. With Barcelona eyeing the 22-year-old striker to replace the aging Luis Suárez, I will analyze the boy from Bahía Blanca, assess his strengths and weaknesses, and evaluate whether or not he is worth the €111 million release clause.
Since making his professional debut for Racing in 2015, Martínez has scored 52 goals, a testament to his lethal end product, goalscoring instinct, and excellent shooting technique. One unique aspect of his shooting technique is his tendency to lean back before shooting. While he isn’t the tallest striker at 5’9″, he boasts a strong core that allows him to keep his balance as he strikes the ball, anchoring himself into position as he prepares to shoot on goal.
Martínez tends to shoot low, with 53% of his shots in his career hitting the bottom third of the goal. As opposed to players such as Sergio Agüero or Timo Werner who hit the ball with the side of their foot, El Toro uses a traditional approach, striking the ball with his laces.
An example of Martinez utilising his preferred power shot. (Wyscout)
Nevertheless, Martínez is a versatile striker who can adapt his approach to give him a better chance of scoring. This versatility is a vital part of his shooting ability; it makes him unpredictable and allows him to choose the technique that gives him the best opportunity to beat the goalkeeper.
Martínez finds himself with sufficient time and space to shoot the ball, and adapts his technique to beat the goalkeeper. (Wyscout)
In addition to his versatility, Martínez is an ambidextrous striker — 33% of his shots in his career have come on his weaker left foot. This increases the unpredictability of his shot, causing defenders to focus on cutting out both angles for him to shoot with.
Julian Weigl blocks the most probable shooting line that Martínez would take if he were to shoot on his favoured right foot. However, thanks to his ambidexterity, he shifts the ball onto his weaker foot and hits a powerful shot without Weigl disrupting his shooting line. (Wyscout)
One reason why Martínez is amongst the best finishers in Europe is because of his abnormally high levels of concentration. During his time at Racing, he took a ‘Concentration Grid’ test that measured mental performance; most players ranked in between 50-70, but Martínez scored 98. This intense focus enables him to notice every aspect of the game, whereas other strikers may switch off and miss out on potential scoring opportunities.
Martínez has a unique technique which enables him to drive the shot low past the goalkeeper, and his ambidexterity and concentration make him an outlier amongst his peers. While he still needs to improve other areas of his game, El Toro is a proven goalscorer who will be a fundamental component for club and country for years to come.
Aside from his finishing ability, Martínez has excellent vision and a sense of creativity that is rare in many center forwards. When linking up with his teammates, the Argentine keeps the ball moving by playing one-touch passes to alter the direction of the ball ever so slightly. He thrives at disguising his passes, often utilizing a Rabona pass to deceive the defender and find his teammate in open space.
Martínez drops in between the lines, dragging out the defender and using his Rabona pass to flick the ball off to his teammate, who is then able to take advantage of the space provided.
Martínez spent his primitive years playing football on the streets of Bahía Blanca, and this ‘street education’ is evident in his dribbling style, which combines his technical quality with an unpredictable South American flair. His dribbles are aggressive, and his constant change of direction while on the ball makes it difficult to defend against him.
While he can play deadly passes at times, Martínez must improve the consistency of his final ball. He has developed a promising partnership with Romelu Lukaku at Inter thanks to his through balls, but oftentimes, those through balls go wayward. Rather than trying to play the risky ‘Hollywood’ pass, he must simplify his passes and make better decisions to help his team retain possession.
Another weakness of his linkup play is his inability to move the ball to the left flank; Martínez is far more comfortable flicking the ball onto his right side, and as such, managers can instruct defenders to cut off passing angles to his right and restrict his options.
In a team such as Quique Setién’s Barcelona, maintaining possession and being able to play the right pass is vital. If Martínez is to join Barcelona this summer, he will have to take his passing consistency up a notch and diversify his passes in order to become a success in Catalunya.
While he must improve his passing consistency, he still has a deadly through ball in his locker. Here, Martinez reads the run of Lukaku and plays a perfectly weighted pass to create an opportunity. (Wyscout)
In addition, Martínez boasts fantastic off-the-ball movement which allows him to exploit empty spaces, put himself into prime scoring positions, and create space for other teammates to exploit. This spatial awareness is exemplified in the second phase of build-up, where he runs through the channels to stretch the opposition’s backline, thus providing his teammates with more time and space.
Aside from his attacking movement off the ball, Martínez is also a hard worker on the defensive side of the game, covering an average of 9km per 90 minutes. Since replacing Luciano Spalletti as Inter manager last year, Antonio Conte has given Martínez the independence to either pressure the opponent or drop deep to secure the defensive block. He tends to choose the former, carefully positioning himself in order to cut off the passing lanes while simultaneously closing down his target.
Martínez’s restless engine can force defenders into making a sloppy back pass or a mistake, and with Setién’s Barcelona pressing 13% more than Conte’s Inter, his pressing skills will become even more valued should he join the Blaugrana outfit this summer. The Argentine is one of the most intense pressers in Serie A, as shown in the below graph.
Martínez ranks second in Serie A for final 3rd pressures behind Bologna’s Rodrigo Palacio, giving his side an advantage in defensive transition. (Wyscout)
One skill that has made El Toro into one of the most sought-after forwards in Europe is the timing of his movements inside the penalty box. He prefers to remain patient and delay his run, striking the ball at very last second. Martínez floats around the box until the moment is right, before making a darting run into the box in order to connect on the ball.
When receiving a powerful cross, he doesn’t go for power, but instead precision, attempting to deflect the ball into the goal.
Martínez patiently waits in the box until the Slavia Prague defender presses Lukaku, before darting across the box and opening the scoring for Inter. (Wyscout)
While he times his runs well, Martínez must improve his spatial identification and destination of his runs in order to increase his expected goals (xG). His xG/per shot is 0.12; in contrast, the average xG/per shot amongst Serie A forwards is 0.13. Martínez has scored 16 goals in 31 matches for Inter this season, but he could double that amount by fine-tuning the direction of his runs and thus increasing his xG.
His unusually low xG/shot is mostly due to his stubbornness; when he decides which running route to take, he often doesn’t change it in order to adapt to the defenders’s reaction, the goalkeeper’s positioning, and the speed of the ball.
An example of this is during Inter’s 4-0 victory against Lecce, where three Lecce defenders look to prevent him from connecting on Lukaku’s cross. To do so, they put pressure on him to rush his shot and position themselves in an ideal location to block the shot.
Martínez still managed to get a shot off, but it was hit poorly and easily saved by Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel. Instead, he should have used his agility to change direction and position himself in an area that would have increased his chances of scoring. Had he done this, he would have been able to take an extra touch and control it on his stronger side, before getting a clean shot off.
Nevertheless, despite his shortcomings, Martínez boasts a unique combination of creativity, technical ability, intelligence, and work rate, and at 22, he has the potential to become the best striker in Europe. Whether that’s at the San Siro or the Camp Nou, only time will tell.
Photo: Gabriel Fraga