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The Impact of Manchester United Defender Lisandro Martinez’s Injury on the Team

Manchester United defender Lisandro Martinez suffered a fresh injury during their victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford, leaving fans and players worried. The Argentine center-back had only recently returned to full action following surgery less than a month ago.

During the second half of the game, Martinez had a collision with West Ham defender Vladimir Coufal, with the weight of the strong Czech defender falling on his knee. The whole stadium knew something was wrong as Martinez went down clutching his knee in agony. His teammates surrounded him, fearing the worst. Although he tried to continue playing through the pain, he eventually had to give in and was seen limping to the dressing rooms.

The club has confirmed that the defender will be out of action for at least eight weeks, which is a massive blow to Manchester United’s mini-revival since his return from injury.

When Martinez first arrived at the club, pundits and critics were quick to write him off citing his height as being a factor that would determine his success in English football. The 26-year-old however, has been a revelation, quickly silencing critics and has turned out to be one of United’s best signings in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era.

He arrived at the club in 2022 and established himself as one of the best and crucial players of team, being one of the first names on the teamsheet. It was all going well for the Red Devils and Erik ten Hag until that fateful night in April 2023 when Sevilla visited Old Trafford for a Europa League quarter-final tie with United.

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Man United had a stronghold on the tie till the 85th minute, leading 2-0 against the Spanish side when a loss of concentration at the back allowed Sevilla to pull one back. Since that moment, United’s 22/23 season came crashing down as Martinez fractured his fifth metatarsal ruling him till the start of next season. When the ‘Butcher’- as he is fondly called by the Old Trafford faithful – returned, the joy was short lived. The Argentine played six games of the 23/24 season, before it was confirmed he would need a second surgery as he was still suffering from the injury suffered on his foot.

Manchester United have had to cope without him for the majority of the season, and it is no surprise the team has faltered, such is the stability that Martinez brings to the team. His impact was clear as day when United suddenly looked stronger than before when they played Wolves and West Ham United. So what will

Impact of Lisandro Martinez Injury on Manchester United

Impact on build-up play

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Lisandro Martinez is an expert in building up from the back, something that Erik ten Hag has been trying to instill in his side from the very first day. His ability on the ball and his low center of gravity aids him in evading oncoming attackers, easily turning away from a press and laying the ball off to a teammate further up the field. Unfortunately for United, no other center-back in the squad is capable of doing what Martinez does when put under pressure, which makes building up from the back a liability.

Often without the Argentine, United have tried to employ the tactic and have given up the ball in dangerous areas, conceding goals almost immediately. The fact that Martinez is a left-footed ball-playing center-back was a decisive factor for ten Hag, who pushed for him as soon as he joined the club. Manchester United had been crying out for a defender who could bring the ball out from the back, or play line-breaking passes from the deep for a few years now.

Harry Maguire had some success in that role under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but the arrival of Martinez has not only provided stability on the left side, but Man United are now able to bypass the opposition press and get the ball from one end to other as quickly as possible.

General Tactical Awareness

Since the 26-year-old has arrived, he has earned the respect and love of United fans all over the world with his displays. Martinez has put in his everything for the team every time he has stepped onto the pitch and has rarely put a foot wrong in his 19 months at the club so far.

When he was written off by pundits for his lack of physicality in a league where tall defenders are dominant, Licha responded back in style, demonstrating his aggression, and exerting his dominance on the pitch, and has now rightly earned his collar as a defender who is one of the hardest to get past. His excellent perception of the game has bailed out Manchester United more than once, and his quick thinking and reflexes will be sorely missed for the next two months.

Such has been the quality of his performances, that fans have been quick to draw comparisons between the Argentine and previous legendary center-backs that have played for United. Be it a Vidic-esque penchant for tackles or the composure of Rio Ferdinand on the ball or the positional awareness, strength, and aggression that Jaap Stam would be proud of, Martinez has showcased his skills and astute understanding of the game almost always in the red shirt.

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Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane have their obvious strengths and weaknesses which have complemented well with the skills of Martinez, who has especially formed a strong partnership with Raphael Varane at the heart of the Man United defense. However, without Martinez, the Red Devils have struggled with Ten Hag experimenting with different center-back pairings and eventually settling on a partnership of Maguire and Jonny Evans, snubbing the 2018 World Cup winner. As a casual watcher, one may be forgiven for thinking playing your best defenders on paper together is the obvious option, however, the Dutch manager sees it differently.

Varane has often been seen as a cautious defender, reluctant to make long forward passes that while carrying high risks can also reap rewards. His preference of making sideways passes leaves United in danger of losing possession inside their own half at times when the opposition are pressing high up. Hence, ten Hag has gone with the resurgent Harry Maguire, who makes the occasional foray into opposition half to play a long ball to either flank, and the veteran Jonny Evans, who is adept at playing a ball over the top – see Bruno Fernandes goal vs Burnley, early in the season.

However, the combination of Maguire and Evans or indeed Maguire and Varane has left the Red Devils vulnerable on fast breaks as neither defender is fast or agile enough.

Wobbly stats when Martinez does not play

The Argentine has been the first-choice left center back for Erik ten Hag since the first day, and his unwavering belief in the 26-year-old has paid off more often than not. Manchester United are a much better team with the diminutive defender in the side and they are generally more organized when he is on the pitch. He has been described by Luke Shaw as a natural leader on the pitch, and is seen to be vocal with his teammates whenever needed. He has started 47 games for the Red Devils since his move in 2022 and has contributed to 32 wins in the process.

However, there is a drop in their win rate without Martinez, winning only 25 of the 48 games he has not played.

For those relying on the eye test, it is clear as day that United are the not the same organized unit without the defender on the pitch. A recurring theme in the goals the Red Devils have conceded when the Argentine has not been on the pitch are goals from cutbacks. Such is the positioning, intelligence and awareness of Martinez, that he knows where every player is on the pitch.

West Ham United manager David Moyes was effusive in his praise of the Butcher in their 3-0 loss at Old Trafford, commending him for preventing them from scoring in the second half. Emerson Palmieri had cleverly dispossessed Maguire on the halfway line and should have scored or contributed to the score at the very least, but instead the ball sailed over the bar. Moyes credited Martinez for preventing Emerson from squaring it to Jarrod Bowen who was lurking nearby, but was tracked well by the Argentine.

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As they say, the devil lies in the detail, and Martinez contributes much more to the side than his crunching tackles or control on the ball. His time on the sidelines could prove to be a massive blow to Man United in their bid to make the top four and their only chance at silverware in the FA Cup.

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