Onana is not Man Utd’s big problem – Lisandro Martinez is

Robin Bairner
Robin Bairner
  • 21 Sept 2023 09:19 BST
  • 4 min read
Lisandro Martinez and Erik ten Hag in talks during Bayern Munich v Man Utd, Champions League 2023
© ProShots

Manchester United’s 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday marked the third successive match in which the Red Devils have conceded three goals or more for the first time since 1978.

Man Utd have conceded 14 times in just six matches this season, and inevitably much of the blame has fallen on goalkeeper Andre Onana, whose error led to Leroy Sane’s opener at the Allianz Arena – a blow that was quickly followed by Serge Gnabry making it two.

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But while the Cameroon goalkeeper is the new part of the equation in a defence that has conceded at least twice in each of its last five competitive outings, there is little doubt that he is not being afforded the type of protection he merits.

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Focus has fallen on another one of Erik ten Hag’s former Ajax acquisitions in the form of Lisandro Martinez.

Widely considered to be one of United’s best signings last season after he arrived from the Amsterdam side for €57.4 million, his performances have dropped off notably this term.

Has he forgotten how to defend or is he being asked to contribute more in possession? Either way, it’s clear that early this season his defensive numbers have collapsed, despite Man Utd remaining primarily a counterattacking side.

Indeed, Ten Hag’s men have only enjoyed more possession than their opponents in two games this season: the home fixtures against Wolves and Nottingham Forest. This offers plenty of opportunities to make defensive contributions.

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Lisandro Martinez
© ProShots - Lisandro Martinez

Lisandro’s slump made clear

Martinez’s numbers, though, have fallen off dramatically compared to last season. He is recovering almost half as many balls as he did last term, only making one third of the interceptions and not even making 50% as many aerial challenges.

His tackling numbers are up slightly but it is mixed news for Man Utd fans that the player they know as ‘The Butcher’ is committing only 0.68 fouls per match.

Curiously, he is taking more on-ball responsibility, making more dribbles and ball carries, notably into the opponents’ half.

Lisandro Martinez: This season v last (Premier League)

Blocked shots/900.450.77
Defensive aerial challenges/900.92.07
Recoveries own 3rd/903.67.48
Recoveries final 3rd/900.220.65

Is it because Man Utd are not being put under pressure? Lisandro’s final season at Ajax suggests not. The Amsterdam club were the dominant outfit in the Eredivisie in the 2021/22 campaign and the centre-back posted higher numbers in each key defensive metric than he is currently at Old Trafford.

This is reflected in an Estimated Transfer Value (ETV) that has collapsed to €42m from a peak of €61m in the middle part of last season, when he was a member of the Argentina squad that won the World Cup. It is his lowest rating since joining the club.

Is this a permanent decline or merely a blip? Either way, it’s a slump that Ten Hag and Man Utd cannot afford right now, even if the spotlight unfairly rests on Onana.

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