Lisandro Martinez has already cracked the code of holding Erling Haaland quiet over 90 minutes. When the Manchester United defender performed for Ajax in final October’s 4-0 Champions League win in opposition to Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund, the Argentina worldwide labored in tandem with defensive associate Jurrien Timber to nullify the specter of the person now tearing the Premier League aside with Manchester Metropolis.
Haaland had probabilities to attain within the Johan Cruyff Area, however the defensive work of Martinez and Timber — together with coach Erik ten Hag’s tactical plan — ensured that the sport ended with Haaland struggling what, for him, has change into the rarity of failing to attain.
Virtually 12 months on, Martinez and Haaland will face off in opposition to one another once more on Sunday when Ten Hag’s United journey to the Etihad within the first Manchester derby of the season. Each are within the early phases of their careers at their new golf equipment following summer time transfers, and each have been two of the excellent new arrivals into the Premier League this season. Whereas there will probably be plenty of key battles that can affect the end result of Sunday’s recreation, the Martinez vs. Haaland head-to-head will arguably be probably the most decisive.
If Martinez, possible with the assistance of defensive associate Raphael Varane, can get pleasure from one other 90 minutes with out permitting Haaland to attain, then United’s prospects of beating Pep Guardiola’s group will probably be far larger. But Haaland is proving to be virtually unstoppable in a Metropolis shirt.
In 10 video games in all competitions for his new membership, the 22-year-old has scored 14 objectives and solely Bournemouth — sure, Bournemouth, who misplaced 9-0 at Liverpool — have stopped him scoring in a aggressive fixture. And although he didn’t web in Metropolis’s 4-0 win in opposition to the Cherries, he nonetheless registered an help, discovering a strategy to make a telling contribution.
On paper, Haaland vs. Martinez must be a mismatch. The Metropolis ahead stands at 6-foot-4 and has the physique of a heavyweight boxer, whereas Martinez is simply 5-foot-9 and comparatively slight, however what he lacks in bodily benefits, the 24-year-old definitely makes up for in tenacity and his capability to learn the sport. After enjoying alongside Harry Maguire in United’s opening two defeats in opposition to Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford within the Premier League, Martinez’s top — or lack of — was singled out by plenty of revered former gamers as being a difficulty that may forestall him from changing into a hit in English soccer.
“I am satisfied this may’t work as a result of the dimensions of him [Martinez] enjoying in a again 4,” former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher stated after United misplaced 2-1 to Brighton and 4-0 at Brentford. “Possibly he might go left-back, perhaps he might play in a again three, however in a again 4, he can’t play there within the Premier League.
“His passing is superb, he appears to be like aggressive. He appears to be like like a frontrunner. He is not a foul participant, however to play at that stage of soccer at 5-foot-9, I would not need to play alongside somebody who was 5-foot-9 as a centre-back.”
Being small isn’t essentially a essential drawback in opposition to a ahead like Haaland. In spite of everything, the Norway worldwide doesn’t discriminate in opposition to sure varieties of defenders — he scores in opposition to all of them, whether or not they’re massive, small, quick or gradual.
Former United defender Jaap Stam, a member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-winning group in 1999, believes that Martinez has proven that he has the qualities to dispel the stereotype that small defenders can’t succeed within the Premier League. “That was a straightforward one, the day when he signed for United, I had already stated they’ll speak about his top,” Stam advised the Manchester Night Information. “Over right here [in England], everybody thinks as a centre-back it is advisable be massive and tall, in any other case you will not make it.
“After all, generally he’ll get stunned, however that is what additionally occurs with massive gamers — they make errors as effectively. Martinez reveals his high quality on the ball, he reveals his high quality when defending and his communication round him is sweet. He simply must preserve going.”
In opposition to Dortmund, Martinez and Timber shared the defensive duties whereas marking Haaland. At 5-foot-10, Timber was additionally missing in top and energy in opposition to the ahead, however with one defender dropping off whereas the opposite went near Haaland, Ajax had been capable of forestall him from scoring.
At 6-foot-3, France worldwide Varane will give United and Ten Hag a mix of top, energy and tempo in opposition to Metropolis, which ought to make for a captivating confrontation between Metropolis’s purpose machine and United’s growing central defensive partnership.
However whereas Sunday will clearly be a check of the Martinez-Varane axis, it would even be a problem for Haaland, who has but to face one of many Premier League’s so-called Massive Six in a aggressive fixture this season. Within the Neighborhood Defend defeat in opposition to Liverpool in August — a recreation that is not classed as a aggressive fixture — Haaland lower a pissed off determine in opposition to Virgil van Dijk and failed to attain in a 3-1 defeat. Haaland’s most important contribution in that recreation was lacking an open purpose from 3 yards out in stoppage time.
How Haaland fares in opposition to United will probably be an fascinating pointer for the months forward. If Metropolis’s provide line to their star striker is decreased when dealing with high groups, Guardiola’s facet may not be fairly as formidable as they’ve appeared in opposition to most of the Premier League’s weaker groups.
Haaland is certainly a goal-scoring phenomenon and stopping him will probably be United’s main goal this weekend. In Martinez, although, they at the least have a defender who is aware of how one can do exactly that.