It took Lautaro Martinez just two minutes to introduce himself to the Camp Nou crowd.
A fortunate ricochet fell into the path of the Argentine striker, giving him a chance to run in behind the Barcelona defence. Under pressure from Clement Lenglet, Martinez was able to slide a finish into the far corner of the net to give Inter an early 1-0 lead.
Luis Suarez replied with a brace to turn the match around and give Barca the Champions League win, but Martinez clearly left a lasting impression on those watching from the Camp Nou director’s box. The 23-year-old has been consistently linked with a switch to the Catalan club ever since, somewhat ironically as a replacement for Suarez.
Real Madrid are now believed to have joined the pursuit of Martinez, with reports from Italy stating the Santiago Bernabeu outfit have managed to reach an agreement for the signing of the Inter striker. But which club would make the most suitable destination for the Argentine? If Martinez has the choice of Barca and Real Madrid, which should he opt for?
At Barcelona, there would be a clear role for Martinez to perform. Suarez is widely expected to be on his way out of the Camp Nou this summer and so Martinez would arrive as the Uruguayan’s direct replacement. The two forwards are certainly similar in their movement and in their general profiles.
Last season saw Martinez average 4.6 shots per 90 minutes while Suarez averaged 3.6. The latter was the more decisive of the two, convening 20% of his shots compared to the 11% conversation rate recorded by the Argentine, but their goal tallies for the 2019/20 season were similar - Martinez scored 14 while Suarez netted 16.
The notion of Martinez as a direct replacement for Suarez assumes Lionel Messi will continue to be used as an attacking figure for Barcelona. Instead, Ronald Koeman might double down on the transformation of Messi into a midfield creator, with the 33-year-old dropping deeper and deeper to pick up the ball with every passing season.
Koeman made use of a fluid and Interchangeable front two as Netherlands head coach and with Memphis Depay set to join his former national team boss at Barcelona it’s possible he could do so the same again this season. This would best suit Martinez, but would question why Barca need him in the first place. Antoine Griezmann is, after all, most natural in a front two, so Martinez wouldn’t just be a replacement for Suarez, but for the Frenchman too. A front three of Griezmann, Martinez and Suarez would provide little in the way of width.
Martinez’s arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu would also likely prompt a change of system from Zidane, at least as long as Karim Benzema remains there. Normally deployed as an attacking apex flanked on either side by inverted wingers, Benzema would be expected to forge an understanding with his new Argentinean teammate as one half of a front two.
The 23-year-old would have no problem playing in this way. It is, after all, as a part of a front two that Martinez has thrived at Inter, striking up an inherent connection with Romelu Lukaku almost from the moment the Belgian walked through the door at the San Siro last summer. As a duo, there are few as formidable in the European game right now.
Martinez v Suarez v Benzema, 2019/20
In many ways, it’s easy to envisage Benzema being a good partner for Martinez should he end up at Real Madrid. The Frenchman likes to drop deep to pick up the ball and spin it forward, either through a dribble of his own or through a pass out wide. Martinez could benefit from this with his runs into the channels and in behind.
But the deployment of a front two would force Zidane to make some sacrifices in midfield. Zidane’s choice between Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Martin Odegaard and Fede Valverde was already set to be a difficult one this season with three central midfield places open. Asking two to play as a double pivot could stretch Real Madrid too thinly in the middle of the pitch.
Whether Martinez ends up at Barcelona or Real Madrid, it’s likely he will have to adapt his game and they will have to adapt theirs. The role of a Barca number nine requires much dialogue with the midfield, but Martinez’s heat maps for Inter last season show he is still very much a penalty box operator. And unlike Griezmann, the Argentine isn’t much of a creator. But if Martinez’s future lies away from the San Siro, it’s with the Blaugrana he would seem to stand the best chance of success.