Lautaro Martinez May Not Fix Barcelona’s Problems – He’ll Be the Latest Striker to End Up on the Wing

At a time when the world is filled with uncertainties, it’s almost reassuring to see that Barcelona are embroiled in a protracted transfer saga. At least some things never change.

While the possibility of Neymar returning to Camp Nou occasionally resurfaces, this summer’s permanent resident of the gossip pages is Inter’s Argentinian striker Lautaro Martínez.

Lautaro Martínez has scored 16 goals in 31 appearances for Inter prior to the suspension of play this season

A 90min exclusive revealed that Barcelona are confident of reaching an agreement with Lautaro as the Catalans desperately search for the financial means to secure his signature. However, it’s no foregone conclusion that Inter’s number ten will seamlessly slot into Barça’s frontline – partly down to Lautaro’s compatriot and, more specifically, where he plays.

Lionel Messi may turn 33 before the start of the next campaign, but La Liga’s top scorer and top assister this season has only shown signs of dipping below his stratospheric standards, rather than entering the realm of mere mortals.

The concern for Lautaro is that he will fall foul of the same fate as many other Barcelona centre forwards over the years. Namely, pushed out wide for Messi to play through the middle.

Of course, Barcelona’s number ten hasn’t exclusively been fielded in a central role – alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar he was nominally the right winger of Barça’s fabled ‘MSN’ attacking trident, with his Uruguayan teammate through the middle. But Suárez was the arguably the first of a long line of forwards afforded this role.

As Barcelona won the European Treble in 2014/15 the MSN trio scored 122 goals between them in all competitions

The latest to suffer the consequences of placating Messi has been Antoine Griezmann. The proven La Liga goalscorer hasn’t exactly set the world alight in his first campaign since arriving for north of £100m in the summer. If he had, Barcelona wouldn’t be so blatantly pursuing Lautaro.

Even in Suárez’s absence this season – following a severe knee injury in January – Griezmann hasn’t strictly been given licence to attack through the middle. Instead, the Frenchman has often found himself drifting wide on the left, with Diego Simeone’s deeply embedded defensive drills compelling him to help his full-back out of possession.

However, Griezmann is not the first, or even the most high profile, name to be pushed to the flanks in a bid to at times appease but largely get the best out of Messi.

As early as his teenage days in the youth team Messi has expressed a desire to play in the middle. When asked his favoured position he simply replied, ‘enganche’ – literally, ‘hook’ – the Argentinian term for a number ten.

Messi had his first contract at Barcelona written on a napkin at a local tennis club

Various coaches at youth and senior level had at times fielded Messi centrally but he was largely a winger before Pep Guardiola deployed him in the fabled ‘false nine’ position – dropping deep from a centre forward’s role to outnumber the opposition in midfield.

At first he wasn’t always played there but when he was, it saw the likes of Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o cast to the flanks. Two extraordinary forwards who, perhaps in any other team, would have lead the line with distinction.

The most famous case of this positional dilemma was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A classic striker who looked awkward anywhere wider than the width of the posts, Ibrahimovic blames Guardiola’s placation of Messi (and Guardiola’s character on the whole) for his single season disappointment at the Camp Nou, explaining: “Messi wanted to play centre forward and he got his way.”

The seemingly quietly-spoken Messi was the driving force behind the tactical switch, privately going to Guardiola and imploring his manager to ‘stick the others out wide’.

Ibrahimovic won La Liga in his solitary season in Catalonia but was quick to force a move in the summer

This advice was largely adhered to and Ibrahimovic was swiftly replaced with the man who had been central (quite literally) to Spain’s World Cup triumph that summer. Yet, despite being promised a central role, David Villa ultimately found himself on the left of Barcelona’s front three with Pedro the other side of Messi as Barcelona became one of the greatest club sides in the history of European football.

The team, and Messi, were able to truly thrive with players flexible enough to coalesce around the magisterial number ten. In his season and a half of European football – a worryingly small sample size which should also be cause for concern – Lautaro has provided little evidence that he could play out wide.

However, that’s not to say it’s out of the 22-year-old’s skill set. He’s formed a formidable front pairing alongside Romelu Lukaku at Inter this season, with the duo plundering 39 goals between them. And Ernesto Valverde (the Barcelona coach replaced by the incumbent Quique Setién) had experimented with a 4-4-2.

Lautaro and Lukaku have been given the nickname LuLa by the Italian media this season

But should Barcelona even be going for a player who would need to alter their game? Why not buy someone who is a wide player rather than someone who can play out wide? Perhaps the answer to that lies in the uncertainty of Messi’s future.

After a turbulent campaign which has seen dirty laundry continually aired between the club and their captain, Messi could, in theory, leave Camp Nou at the end of the season for free given the ludicrous clause willingly inserted into his contract by the club.

Perhaps the question isn’t really whether Lautaro would fit in the same team as Messi, but whether he can be the spearhead of a side in the great man’s absence.


Juventus Reject Arturo Vidal Return as Inter Wait for Right Deal

Juventus are believed to have rejected the chance to re-sign Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal this summer, leaving Inter as his most likely destination.

Barcelona are preparing themselves for a summer clear-out to try to fund a spending spree. Inter’s Lautaro Martínez is at the top of their wishlist and Juventus’ Miralem Pjani? is up there too, but the idea of swapping players has been suggested as the best option as Barcelona aren’t blessed with too much money.

Olympique Lyon v Juventus – UEFA Champions League

In their pursuit of Pjani?, Barcelona are believed to have offered Vidal in a player-plus-cash deal, but Calciomercato note that Juventus aren’t interested. They do want to rejuvenate their midfield, but they don’t see 33-year-old Vidal as the way to do that.

That’s not a new stance from Juventus, who are said to have informed Barcelona back in December that they weren’t prepared to do business over Vidal.

That reluctance saw Barcelona turn to Inter, who were desperate to sign the Chilean in January. However, when a deal could not be agreed, they turned to Christian Eriksen from Tottenham Hotspur, but they are still ready to land Vidal this summer.

Barcelona Players Return To Training Following Coronavirus Lockdown

The obvious avenue to explore would be to include Vidal as part of any deal for Martínez, but Calciomercato note that Inter are adamant that any deal for Vidal must be separate from anything else.

Negotiations over Martínez have proven to be so long and complicated, and Inter don’t want to make things worse by throwing Vidal’s name into the mix as well.

SS Lazio v FC Internazionale – Serie A

The Nerazzuri are prioritising the deal for Martínez as they don’t see a desperate need for Vidal in their squad. Eriksen is already there, Stefano Sensi will soon be signed permanently and the plan is also to sign Brescia’s Sandro Tonali, but Antonio Conte would also like to add Vidal to his squad.

The pair worked together at Juventus and are said to have remained incredibly close, but Conte is not going to force a deal if it’s not possible. Inter do want to sign Vidal, but not as much as they did back in January.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!


Stefano Sensi’s Agent Confirms Premier League Interest as Inter Prepare to Sign Midfielder Permanently

The agent of Inter loanee Stefano Sensi has confirmed that he has been contacted by several Premier League sides over a potential move for the Italian.

Sensi joined Inter on loan with a €20m option to buy from Sassuolo last summer, and even though he has struggled with injuries during his time at San Siro, it is still widely seen as just a matter of time before Inter make the deal permanent.

FC Internazionale v SSC Napoli – Coppa Italia: Semi Final

However, that has not stopped rumours of an immediate exit, with Napoli reported to be considering a deal, but agent Giuseppe Riso told Radio Kiss Kiss (via Football Italia) that the only interest he has heard of came from England.

“The rumours about Napoli didn’t arrive to me,” he said. “Also, because I don’t think Antonio Conte wants to let him go, he is crazy about him. I don’t think it’s a possibility that he will leave Inter.

“A great coach in England told me: ‘Bring me Sensi, even without legs’. And if a coach from such a physical championship said that… it means that Sensi has football in his mind before having it in his legs.”

In terms of suitors, Manchester City were linked with a move for Sensi back in November, but Riso’s words suggest that the 24-year-old won’t be leaving Inter this summer regardless of who wants him.

Corriere dello Sport state with confidence that Sensi will officially become an Inter player at the end of the season, despite concerns over the financial landscape of a post-coronavirus world.

SS Lazio v FC Internazionale – Serie A

The likelihood of a permanent deal came into question earlier in the season after Sensi first began struggling with injury. He started just nine Serie A games before football was postponed, but he did manage three goals and four assists.

Despite his limited appearances, Inter are thought to be happy to strike a deal. The Nerazzuri and Sassuolo are said to have an excellent relationship and have already discussed the details of the deal, so once the transfer window is open, Sensi will finalise a permanent move to Inter.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!


Quique Setien Admits He’d Love to Work With Neymar and Lautaro Martinez as Transfer Talk Intensifies

Barcelona boss Quique Setien has fuelled speculation linking the club with moves for Neymar and Lautaro Martinez by revealing that he would love to work both players in the future.

Neymar has been touted for a return to Camp Nou for several years and the transfer saga shows no sign of subsiding, with the Brazilian keen on pushing through a move at the end of the season.

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad – La Liga

When asked about the speculation, Setien confirmed that he would relish the opportunity to coach the PSG forward.

“Of course I would like to coach Neymar one day,” he said in an interview with BeIN Sports (via the Daily Mail). “Fortunately I have been able to fulfil one dream of coaching the best player in the world in Leo [Messi]. What is to come next, we will wait and see but I’m sure I would be delighted, how would I not be.”

Martinez has also been tipped to move to Catalunya, with his fine form for Inter seeing him emerge as a possible long-term replacement for 33-year-old Luis Suarez, whose Barcelona contract expires next summer.

When quizzed on the Nerazzurri striker, Setien was similarly complimentary about his talents.

Paris Saint-Germain v Borussia Dortmund – UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

“It’s clear that there are four or five players who play in that position that are extraordinary and that any of them could be at Barcelona. He is a player who would be very good in this team, like other players of his level.”

Of late, Barça have been reported to be interested in a swap deal that would see Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic join the club. Again, Setien was in no mood to quell these again, putting on record that he is a big fan of the Bosnian.

“I’ve always said I like all top players and as they are top players then it follows that they could end up at Barcelona. He is a great player like dozens of others.”


Diego Milito: The Best Striker in the World in 2010 & Inter’s Biggest of Big Game Players

Was he the best striker in the world in 2010? Honestly, it’s tough to argue a case for anyone else.

The fact that his name was nowhere near the Ballon d’Or rankings is one of the great mysteries of the past decade. Or crimes, whichever way you look at it. Me personally, I’m going with crimes.

During the 2009/10 campaign, Didier Drogba was the only player (other than the obvious two) to score more goals than Diego Milito – but to even try and suggest that the Ivorian was a better striker at the time is an argument nobody can win.

Upon moving to Inter at the beginning of that season, Milito had already bagged 158 goals in his 367 career outings, but had just two top flight titles in Argentina to show for his troubles.

Granted the chance to prove his worth at the biggest club he’d ever played for, and under the watchful eye of Jose Mourinho, the season he would go on to produce would be both iconic and, in many ways, perfect.

The Portuguese’s system of counterattacking football with Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder feeding Milito was so well drilled it rarely ever faltered. Signing a striker who was both quick in transition and a lethal finisher to fit into this side was key to Mourinho’s plans. And in Milito, he had that man.

Still, the level of performances he would produce on a weekly basis were still far above the capabilities many expected of him. But more crucially, was his timing. Drogba was always praised for his ability in big games, but Milito rewrote the definition of ‘big game player’.

You will struggle to find anyone, in any season, to have such a massive say on all the matches that mattered most. Inter were arguably the best Italian side since Arrigo Sacchi’s late 80s AC Milan team, but they were indebted to the Argentine for so much of that success.

Let’s start with Serie A. Firstly, Milito’s 22 goals and four assists in 35 matches is worth praising, but once again, it’s the timing of his goals and the occasions he scored them that define both his mentality on the pitch, as well as his superiority above all the other strikers in the world at the time.

He netted in both Milan derbies, of course, and it was his touch that secured Inter the league title when he netted the winner against Siena on the final day of the season – claiming the Scudetto ahead of Claudio Ranieri’s AS Roma.

What about the Coppa Italia then? Expecting anything other than a Milito show here would be wholly wrong of you. Naturally, he scored the only goal in the final win over Roma, as well as bagging another in the semi-final. Big game player? We’re not even close yet.

After all, this Inter side won the treble that season. Would they have even come close without their star man up front? The most complete centre forward in world football? Not a chance. Yes, Samuel Eto’o was in the side, but his role in a wider berth was crucial to allowing Milito to flourish as well as get support when needed – which he rarely did.

During the group stages of the Champions League, Inter were on the brink of an early exit. Away at Dynamo Kyiv and trailing with just five minutes left, Milito….yeah, you know what happens next.

The forward bagged the equaliser then set up Sneijder for the winner in the dying seconds. Just another day at the office. Not content with his European goals at this point, he scored in every knockout round following, against CSKA Moscow, Chelsea and Barcelona.

He was untouchable. But simply stating his goals is no just admiration for his ability. In terms of a complete striker, Milito had no chinks in his armour. His hold up play was technically astute and remarkably elegant, his movement both on and off the ball was second to none, and his range of goals knew no bounds. Whether it was volleys, header, left or right, he was a player at the very peak of his powers.

So when the Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabéu came round, even if the Nerazzurri were to lose at the final hurdle, not one person could have begrudged Milito for his involvement building up to that point.

But Milito was to have his ultimate clutch moment. Scoring in cup finals and scoring the goals to clinch league titles wasn’t enough. Against formidable opponents in Bayern Munich, Milito was, once again, a class above.

His two goals were the only two goals of the game, but each were fabulous in their own way. Firstly his cushioned header for Sneijder in the build up to his first goal was flawless, and then his second individual effort demonstrated the kind of footwork rarely ever seen from a centre forward. He tormented the backline all game, and was the worthy winner of the man-of-the-match award.

Barring the obvious pair, there was no better player in the world than Diego Milito that season.

His goals, work rate, tactical sharpness and outstanding knack of turning up for the biggest matches was unmatched. It’s no point even discussing his career after that. He’d completed football. Just a shame Argentina and France Football didn’t see likewise. But, at least he won a shedload of the individual wards.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!