As Lautaro Martinez entered the field of play in the 78th minute against Parma, things were dire.
Inter Milan were putting in a spirited performance, but were struggling to create a real goal scoring opportunity. They had a goal rightfully disallowed, and the pressure was mounting on a side which was yet to score in Serie A since the December. Within two minutes, and the young Argentine smashed home a vital goal which gave Inter a much needed victory.
Indeed, this was not the first time the man they call ‘El Toro’ had come up big for Inter this season. No one will forget his late winner against Napoli at the San Siro, nor his skill and assist against Barcelona.
He also put in a number of positive performances against Cagliari, Genoa and Frosinone whilst deputizing for Mauro Icardi in the Serie A. There have been plenty of positives but, as with any young player, there have been negatives. A number of high profile missed opportunities against PSV Eindhoven, Sassuolo and Torino had some pundits asking whether he was ‘Il Nuovo Gabigol’ rather than the next Aguero.
The fact is that, right now, he’s neither. He’s Lautaro Martinez, and he’s shown enough to suggest that Inter are better with him on the field. In this article, we’ll look at the different ways he can fit into the side.
As A Back-Up For Icardi
When Inter were balancing their energies between the Serie A and the Champions League, Lautaro regularly started ahead of Inter’s captain before or after a big European match. It gave him valuable experience and some comfort in the knowledge that he would have the full 90 minutes to work.
While these matches may not have been against world-beating opposition, Lautaro performed admirably on each occasion. He opened the scoring against Cagliari, netted another against Frosinone and put in a lion-hearted performance against Genoa. Much to the disappointment of his father, however, these opportunities were few and far between. Icardi rarely succumbs to injury and is both the team captain and lynch-pin.
Elimination from the Coppa didn’t help his chances of playing time, but Inter are about to commence their Europa League campaign against Rapid Wien and so we could see more starts for our No. 10 – particularly as the club have lowered themselves back into the race for Champions League qualification.
As A Super-Sub
While starts have been rare, Lautaro has commonly been introduced late on in games to help his side make a difference.
Spalletti has brought him on as a sub fourteen times and, on seven occasions, the team has scored with him on the pitch. This reads like a successful strategy, however the manager has often come under fire for waiting too long to introduce the Argentine.
Nine of those appearances were for less than 15 minutes – a very short period for a player to have a significant impact. It’s even more frustrating when you consider how the side has struggled to score goals in general this season.
Alongside Icardi In Either A 4-4-2 or 3-5-2
When Lautaro has been introduced it has almost always been to play alongside his Argentine compatriot. Although not perfect, the two have the makings of an effective pairing.
Against SPAL it was Lautaro’s movement which opened up space for Icardi to score the winner, while the roles were reversed against Parma. Icardi is a terrifying prospect for any Serie A back line, and often garners the attention of at least two defenders. Theoretically this opens up space for someone like Lautaro to exploit.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. Away to Sassuolo and Torino, the two lined up together and both had poor games. They’re both used to playing as a #9 and sometimes got in one another’s way. When Lautaro has been asked to drop deeper and play as a #10, he’s been guilty of turning the ball over and being wasteful in possession.
With the youngster seemingly unable to fulfill a deeper role consistently, a move into the starting line-up would require an overhaul of tactics in general – something Spalletti has been hesitant to do since he joined.
During the pre-season, we saw the manager experiment with a 4-4-2 to incorporate his strikers but we’ve seen very little of it come season proper. This is a safe move as, beyond the two Argentinians, there really isn’t another quality striker available to the first team.
The team has lined up in a 3-5-2 on occasion this season, but without significant success. They also seriously lack the options at center-back to be able to employ the tactic on a regular basis.
What Will The Future Hold?
Lautaro currently has six goals in all competitions, and is on track to hit double figures by season end.
This would be an excellent outcome for a player during his first season in Italy, and may well force the club to make him a starter.
This summer should also answer two questions pertinent to the player’s future: ‘Will Inter continue with Luciano Spalletti (a manager who struggles to regularly incorporate two No. 9s)’ and ‘Will Mauro Icardi remain at the club?’ In the case of the latter, Inter will need to decide whether Lautaro is ready to be their main man, or if they bring in a replacement.
Either way, this is a good problem to have. Inter have on their roster one of the most promising young players in world football. He is improving each week and seem to have the right mentality to rise to the very top. The club may not have the best record with youngsters, but his talent is too great to ignore.
What do you think Inter should do with El Toro? Let us know in the comments below!