Recency bias can sometimes be one of the toughest mental opponents that many diehard sports fans have to face every year after year, season after season. This perennial challenge has become increasingly true in the digital age, with smartphones enabling instant gratification of internet access to social media and a truly global 24 hour news cycle. After all of that constant information overload, it sure feels like it’s been a lot more than JUST TWO YEARS since Internazionale paid a reported fee of €22.7 million on July 4th, 2018 and signed the almost-21 year old to a five year contract.
Lautaro scored his first goal for Inter against Cagliari on September 29th, 2018... and as a fitting sign of what was to come, it was a header (assisted by Dalbert!) for the opening goal of the match.
Both aspects of that proved to be a pattern for Lautaro’s scoring contributions with Inter — 8 out of the 30 goals that he has scored for us so far in all competitions have been headers, and an astonishing 18 of those 30 were our opening goal in each of those matches... that Cagliari goal also turned out to be the game winner, which has been the case for 11 out of Lautaro’s 30 goals for us.
Much sooner than expected after joining Internazionale just a few months prior, Lautaro Martinez inherited a starting position from the “injured” Mauro Icardi in the second half of the young striker’s first season in Italy.
El Toro adapted reasonably well to leading the line as a single striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation of Luciano Spalletti’s tactical system. Despite the distracting Icardi drama continuing off the pitch, Lautaro made the most of his huge opportunity to become first choice in the lone target man role. He finished the 2018/19 season with 8 goals in all competitions — 6 goals and 2 assists from 1337 minutes in Serie A, plus one goal each in the Europa League and Coppa Italia.
Soon after Antonio Conte arrived at Internazionale on May 31st, 2019, it quickly became clear that Lautaro would be going into his second season here with the expectation of being a first choice starter alongside Romelu Lukaku in the striker pairing of the new manager’s 3-1-4-2 system.
The LAUT-AKU attack absolutely thrived as the two Center Forwards leading Conte’s offense, scoring a combined total of 37 goals in Serie A — that ended up comprising 45.7% of our entire team’s total of 81 goals, which was the second highest amount scored by any team in the domestic league, behind Atalanta’s spectacular attack but with five more than Juventus! Lukaku contributed 28.4% of that Serie A total with 23 individual goals, and Lautaro contributed 17.3% with 14 individual goals!
Furthermore, Lautaro’s end product was even more impressive in the Champions League — despite bad luck of the draw placing us in a challenging “Group of Death,” our then-22 year old scored 5 goals in 6 matches!!!
The quintessential LAUT-AKU performance, at least in the Champions League, was almost definitely when Lukaku assisted both goals of Lautaro’s spectacular brace on the road against Slavia Prague on November 27th, 2019. I highly recommend re-watching the highlights, which have fortunately been shared by Inter’s official YouTube channel:
The first was made possible thanks to Lukaku’s incredible work, muscling his way past two defenders out wide before putting in an off-balance weak foot cross... it comes in slightly behind Lautaro, but the talented Argentine’s extraordinary coordination allows him to turn it into a crazy sort of twisting half-volley, smashing the ball into the ground, weighted perfectly to bounce over the opposing goalkeeper perfectly into the far left top corner — and that (as usual for Lautaro) was just the opening goal!
We nearly had a second goal that came directly as a result of Lautaro’s aggressive high-pressing, which rushed the defender into making a mistake, with a terrible back-pass that Lautaro proceeded to intercept. Then the striker was in free behind Slavia’s defensive line, running through wide open space towards goal before unselfishly slotting a perfect assist to Lukaku for an easy finish at the back post... unfortunately VAR had spotted a foul by De Vrij at the other end that called back the goal and actually gave Slavia a penalty, which they scored. Nonetheless, that sequence was still a worthy inclusion in the highlight reel because it was a great example of Lautaro’s intelligent, tenacious pressing directly leading to the ball in the back of the opponent’s net.
The actual second goal came from a great individual effort by Lukaku on the counter, which ended up with him walking the ball into the net. As wonderful to see as those first two goals were, however, I think the third might actually be my favorite — somewhat similarly to the first goal, Lukaku brought the ball up the right flank to assist a Lautaro volley... but this time the cross was an absolutely exquisite outside-of-the-foot curler from the Big Belgian that was weighted and aimed perfectly for Lautaro to make a clean connection midair and smash it in between the goalkeeper and his near post!
Big Game Lautaro
After only 1.5 seasons of being a regular starter here, Lautaro’s most important contribution is that the 23 year old already has a remarkable scoring record in big matches:
(Note: all of the following videos come straight from Inter’s official YouTube account)
- 3 goals against Napoli, all from open play:
The opening goal and game-winner in a 1-0 win on December 26th, 2018
The third goal to clinch our 3-1 win on January 6th, 2020
The second goal to clinch our 2-0 win on July 28th, 2020
- 1 goal against Juventus… admittedly a penalty, but an important one in the Derby d’Italia, as the equalizer of what turned out to be a 1-2 loss on October 6th, 2019
- 1 goal against AC Milan... admittedly also a penalty, but another important one in the Derby della Madonnina, which turned out to be the game winner of our 3-2 win on March 17th, 2019
- 2 goals against Borussia Dortmund — both from open play, with two opening goals in two matches
The game winner of our 2-0 shutout at home on October 23rd, 2019
An early away goal in front of a famously intimidating crowd to open the scoring of what turned out to be a Hakimi-led comeback win for Dortmund on November 5th, 2019
- 1 goal against Barcelona, which opened the scoring on the road at Camp Nou on October 2nd, 2019
(It’s worth mentioning that all three of Barca’s infamous UCL embarrassments in consecutive years happened away from their home stadium — at Roma, at Liverpool, and at a neutral venue in Portugal in an empty stadium... so scoring at Camp Nou still remains an impressive accomplishment)
- 1 goal against Atalanta, which opened the scoring of our 1-1 draw on January 11th, 2020
Not bad at all, especially from a young player who has only been a regular starter with us for just over a year and a half!
I strongly believe that one of the reasons why Lautaro actually tends to score at a surprisingly better rate against the top opponents is because those tend to be more open matches. The 23 year old thrives most when there is more space to exploit, either in high-pressing OR in counter-attacking situations — as was perfectly exemplified in one of his few recent goals, when El Toro came off the bench to double the lead and seal our 2-0 victory over Napoli!
Terrible Form since January
Unfortunately, many Inter supporters (including me) have developed an increasingly negative perception of our young star striker after several months of shockingly poor form — Lautaro has only scored 4 goals since January in all competitions!!! It was genuinely a surprise when Lautaro scored an excellent goal coming off the bench in that recent Napoli victory, helping to secure all three points in the season’s penultimate match, which was essential for us to secure a second place finish in Serie A... other than that Napoli long shot, however, Lautaro only scored two other goals in the domestic league.
Perhaps even worse, Lautaro’s truly outstanding form in European competition completely disappeared after we finished third in our Champions League “Group of Death” — in the Europa League, the 22 year old only managed to score two goals in five appearances, and both came in the same dominant team performance to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the Semi-Final. The first of those two was what I’m now calling a “Lautaro trifecta” goal, opening the scoring with a header that also turned out to be the game-winner! However, it was a match that we clearly could have won anyway without Lautaro.
Despite his excellent record in big games, Lautaro completely failed to make any difference in his biggest match yet for us, as a starter against Sevilla in the Europa League Final. To be fair, some of that blame should go to Roberto Gagliardini for his playmaking deficiencies at LCM behind Lautaro... but it was still an invisible performance from the struggling young striker on the day directly before his 23rd birthday.
What to Expect from Lautaro in 2020-21:
At some point, I intend to do a more in-depth article with detailed statistical and tactical breakdowns of Lautaro’s strengths and weaknesses, showing how he has progressed in his third season with us and where he still has room for improvement... but for now, I’ll admit that this current preseason article is basically intended as a shameless piece of pro-Lautaro propaganda.
Like many other Inter supporters — including some of my fellow regular commenters here at SoM — my perception of Lautaro has honestly become more negative in recent months. Although much of that was somewhat justified, it has probably now reached the point of becoming a little unfair to the young talent.
Everything was going great until the January transfer window, when El Toro’s truly elite form in the first half of the season (seriously, 5 goals in 6 Champions League matches from a 22 year old!) suddenly fell off a cliff. Even after the pandemic lockdown, Lautaro’s performance quality still hasn’t fully recovered ever since the global spotlight started shining on him with sustained high intensity because of serious links to a Barcelona move. When it became clear that he was willing to leave us after less than two years, despite understanding his desire to join up with Argentina national teammate Lionel Messi, it was tempting to feel at least a little bit like Lautaro’s subsequently awful form was exactly what he deserved... especially since Alexis Sanchez had fully recovered from injuries and then arguably became our best performer on the entire team after the lockdown restart, allowing us to continue winning even with El Toro mostly on the bench!
That being said, even despite a disappointing second half of the season, Lautaro still finished with 14 goals and 3 assists in 2467 minutes of Serie A this season — a combined total of 17 G+A, which is equivalent to Serie A “MVP” Paulo Dybala’s combined total with 11 goals and 6 assists in 2165 minutes... the 26 year old did it in 302 fewer minutes, but Lautaro performed exactly as well in terms of end product, with an equal total, and just a slightly different goal-to-assist ratio as expected from their different respective positional roles.
Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that things could improve in the upcoming season, with Lautaro’s form hopefully returning quickly to its very best... UNLIKE how Lautaro had to play in front of Gagliardini at LCM far too often in the second half of last season, the return of Perisic and Nainggolan plus the addition of Arturo Vidal provides Conte with more high quality rotation options who have already established playmaking chemistry alongside Lautaro from his first season with us:
- Ivan Perisic assisted 2 of the 30 goals that Lautaro has scored for Inter in all competitions
- Radja Nainggolan also assisted 2 of the 30
- Romelu Lukaku assisted 3 of the 30
- Alexis Sanchez assisted 2 of the 30
- Nicolo Barella assisted 2 of the 30
- Stefano Sensi assisted 1 of the 30
- Marcelo Brozovic assisted 1 of the 30
- Stefan De Vrij assisted 2 of the 30
That’s a lot of guaranteed minutes playing with teammates who have already directly helped create goals for Lautaro... and that’s before even accounting for the wild card possibility of Christian Eriksen improving significantly in his first full season in Italy with Conte and Inter! A potential combination behind Lautaro of treble winner Perisic at LWB and a fully settled Eriksen at LCM could lead to some absolutely world class attacking play down that left flank — one that could potentially contribute just as significantly as the phenomenal Lukaku-Hakimi-Barella trio on our right flank!
In addition to the possible duo of Perisic and Eriksen, at least two other “lines” of LWB-LCM pairings behind Lautaro could also be very high quality if rotated intelligently — Ashley Young and/or Dalbert at LWB with Sensi or Barella at LCM, or the new signing Kolarov plus Radja returning from loan... the latter pair of which would reunite former Roma teammates who eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League three seasons ago while playing key roles together in Eusebio Di Francesco’s 3-5-2 formation!
Now that Lautaro’s agent has confirmed that he is staying at Inter, it’s time to get excited again about our 23 year old rising star — we’re about to enjoy at least one more entire season of Lautaro returning his full focus to his exciting development into a truly world class striker! Our young Argentine LM10 is in a really good place right now to resume scoring a ton of spectacular, important goals within this talented Inter squad.
Forza LAUTARO... Forza CONTEnuity... FORZA NERAZZURRI!!!
How many goals do you expect Lautaro and Lukaku to score together in all competitions this season as a combined total, after scoring 55 together last season?
This poll is closed
Less than 55 goals (an average under 27.5 goals each in all competitions)
55 to 59 goals
60 to 65 goals
66 to 70 goals
More than 70 (an average over 35 goals each in all competitions)
By the way, if you are “lurking” here — whether as an Inter supporter who hasn’t made a profile yet to comment, or as a fan of other teams visiting from their respective SB Nation blogs but with some level of intrigue regarding Conte’s Inter project — feel welcome to de-lurk and contribute your own thoughts about Lautaro and the upcoming season in the comment section below!