Rio Ferdinand has given a scathing assessment of Lisandro Martinez and his ability to play in the Premier League, urging Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag to change to a back three to accommodate the diminutive Argentine.
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Martinez, a £56.7million signing from Ajax this summer, was hauled off after 45 minutes against Brentford at the weekend after being given a torrid time by Ivan Toney as well as getting easily out-jumped by Ben Mee on a corner.
Ferdinand believes the defender’s lack of height – he is just 5ft 9in – will have the Premier League’s more physical and imposing strikers ‘licking their lips’ and is not convinced he can play at centre-back in a flat back four.
Speaking on his Vibe with FIVE YouTube show, the United legend said: ‘He’s going to be a target, seriously. I know for a fact there will be players now, centre-halves who know they’re going up for set-pieces, and centre-forwards: Mitrovic, Nunez, Haaland, Wood, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. All of them, they’ll be sitting there going, “Oh my god, get me in the team, there’s definitely chances there”.
‘I was speaking to Alan Shearer yesterday on the text and we were talking about it. He used to lick his lips when the ball was plopped up to the far post. He used to lick his lips when there were 6ft 4in centre-halves waiting in front of him, let alone a 5ft 9in centre-half.
‘So imagine what these guys are going to be thinking when they’ve got a 5ft 9in guy standing there. They’ll be thinking: “Just tee it up and I’ve got a run on him” – they don’t even have to jump! Bang! Put him and the ball in the back of the net.
‘With all due respect, when have you ever seen Ben Mee really bully a centre-half in the opposing team’s box and bundle the ball in? Not often in his career. You don’t put him down as one of them types. But he does it in his second game of the season [against Martinez].
‘For all the good that he’s got, and how good he is taking the ball, confidence on the ball, his tenacity etcetera, that element there [his lack of height] is a massive factor in the Premier League.
‘In the Dutch league or the Spanish league, Javier Mascherano played there brilliantly for Barcelona because they had the ball 80 per cent of the time.
‘And in Spain, and in Champions League football, there aren’t many aerial battles. Whereas in the Premier League it offers a different proposition to any league in the world.
‘If you’ve got an Under-15s team, and you go to a scout from a professional team and you say, “Listen I’ve got a centre-half here, he’s 5ft 9in, really good on the ball, blah, blah, blah, do you fancy taking him?” The scout is going to go, “5ft 9in? No chance mate. He’s not big enough”. That’s what they’re going to say, it’s a fact.’
Ferdinand feels Martinez’s height would be significantly less of a problem if Ten Hag were to change his formation to a back three – a tweak which would also provide more protection for United’s leaky backline.
He added: ‘Play him in a three, it’s fine.
‘[Ten Hag] needs to go to a back three because we can’t keep the ball out of the back of the net. You play a back three a lot of the time when you haven’t got good enough defenders to be able to defend the goal, and we need to do that.’
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