Lisandro Martinez: Is All the Height Talk Justified?

When Erik Ten Hag joined Manchester United this summer, one of his main priorities was to improve their leaky defence and bring in quality players to do so.

He got straight to addressing that, making his first summer signing Tyrell Malacia from Feyenoord and then splashing the cash on his former player and Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez.

Since Martinez has moved to the premier league, much has been made in the press and on social media of his height and perceived lack of physicality and aerial ability.

So, what kind of player have they bought, and has he shown any physical frailties so far?

Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League

Martinez during Manchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion


Looking at Martinez’s Eredivisie stats from last season he averaged 5.74 aerial duels per game, winning 66.2% of them. In terms of number of aerial duels, he sits way outside of the top 30 in the league, however, his success rate places him at the 7th in the league, showing that when the opposition try to exploit his height, he has the skillset to overcome that.

Comparing those numbers to his new teammates at Manchester United, we see success rates of 67.5% for Harry Maguire and 69.8% for Raphael Varane in the Premier League last year. Those numbers are not dissimilar to Martinez’s and surprisingly the both Maguire and Varane made fewer aerial duels per game than Martinez, with 3.96 and 3.93 respectively.

Furthermore, Manchester United completed the 3rd least number of aerial duels in the Premier League last season, with the second highest success rate, showing that opposing teams are less likely to go to the air against them. Granted, the Premier League is generally more physical than the Eredivisie, but overall Martnez’s numbers mirror nicely with the current squad players, considering this is a perceived weakness of his.


Martinez during Manchester United v Liverpool FC


Well Manchester United got off to a struggling start, laying bottom of the table after the first two games but have since turned their fortunes around somewhat. Interestingly, Martinez started those first two games next to Harry Maguire, who has since been dropped for Raphael Varane, and that may benefit both players.

So far this season, clubs have clearly seen the addition of Martinez and adopted more aerial tactics, with Manchester United facing the 10th most aerial duels, but their success rate remains 5th in the league. Martinez’s average aerial duels so far has fallen to just 1.74 per game but he maintains a success rate of 68.1%, whereas Varane has upped his aerial duels to 4.13 per game, with a success rate of 60%. It appears Varane will be the partner of choice for Martinez going forward, so where else does Martinez improve on Harry Maguire as Manchester United’s starting left centre back?

Martinez brings stats of 5.25 interceptions, 12.88 recoveries, 73.7% of defensive duels won and 2.91 clearances per game from last season in the Netherlands. Those defensive stats are all better than Maguire’s from last season (4.62 interceptions, 11 recoveries, 71.3% defensive duels, 2.81 clearances). Moreover, this season so far Martinez has outperformed Maguire in each of those categories too.


Manchester United Manager, Erik Ten Hag with Maguire

Therefore, Manchester United have gained a better overall defender with fantastic positioning and the ability to help them regain possession more often. His perceived aerial weakness is certainly more myth than fact, and the importance of being strong in the air is slightly less so at Manchester United compared to most premier league clubs due to how teams aim to play against them.

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