Can Martinez stop Haaland from scoring in Manchester derby?

Lisandro Martinez has already cracked the code of keeping Erling Haaland calm for 90 minutes. When the Manchester United defender played for Ajax in last October’s 4-0 Champions League win over Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund, the Argentina international worked with his defensive partner Jurrien Timber to eliminate the threat posed by the man who is now tearing the Premier League apart with Manchester City.

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Haaland had chances to score at the Johan Cruyff Arena but defensive work from Martinez and Timber – coupled with coach Erik ten Hag’s tactical plan – ensured the game ended in which Haaland suffered what was a rarity for him to fail has become to score.

Almost 12 months later, Martinez and Haaland will meet again on Sunday when Ten Hags United travel to the Etihad in the first Manchester derby of the season. Both are in the early stages of their careers at their new clubs following summer transfers and both have been two of the Premier League’s standout arrivals this season. While there will be a number of key fights that will affect the outcome of Sunday’s game, the Martinez-Haaland clash is arguably the decisive one.

If Martinez, likely with the help of defensive partner Raphael Varane, can enjoy another 90 minutes without Haaland scoring, United’s chances of beating Pep Guardiola’s side are far greater. Nevertheless, Haaland proves to be almost unstoppable in a city jersey.

In 10 games in all competitions for his new club, the 22-year-old has scored 14 goals and only Bournemouth – yes, Bournemouth, who lost 9-0 at Liverpool – have prevented him from scoring in a competitive game. And while he failed to nett in City’s 4-0 win over the Cherries, he still registered an assist and found a way to make a meaningful contribution.

On paper, Haaland vs. Martinez should be a mismatch. The City forward is 6ft 4 and has the physique of a heavyweight boxer, while Martinez is just 5ft 9 and relatively lean, but what he lacks in physical advantages the 24-year-old certainly makes up for in tenacity and his ability to to read the game. After playing alongside Harry Maguire in United’s first two defeats by Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford in the Premier League, Martinez’s size – or lack of it – has been singled out by a number of respected former players as a problem that plagued him would prevent him from becoming a success in English football.

“I am convinced that this cannot work because of its size [Martinez] playing in a back four,” said former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher after United lost 2-1 to Brighton and 4-0 at Brentford. “Maybe he could go left-back, maybe he could play in a back three , but purely a back four, he can’t play there in the Premier League.

“His passing is very good, he looks aggressive. He looks like a leader. He’s not a bad player, but to play at that level of football at 5ft-9, I wouldn’t want to play with someone who’s 5 years old old is -foot-9 as a central defender.”

Being small isn’t necessarily a major disadvantage compared to a striker like Haaland. After all, the Norway international doesn’t discriminate against certain types of defenders – he scores against everyone, big, small, fast or slow.

Former United defender Jaap Stam, a member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-winning team in 1999, believes Martinez has shown he has the qualities to dispel the stereotype that small defenders don’t succeed in the Premier League be able. “It was easy, the day he signed for United I had already said they were going to talk about his greatness,” Stam told the Manchester Evening News. “Over here [in England]everyone thinks that as a centre-back you have to be big and tall or you won’t make it.

“Of course he’ll be surprised sometimes, but that also happens with great players – they make mistakes too. Martinez shows his quality on the ball, he shows his quality on defense and his communication with him is good. He.” just gotta keep going.”

Against Dortmund, Martinez and Timber shared defensive duties while tagging Haaland. At 5ft-10, Timber also lacked height and power against the forward, but when one defender fell off while the other got close to Haaland, Ajax were able to stop him from scoring.

At 6-foot-3, France international Varane United and Ten Hag will bring a mix of size, strength and pace against City in what should make for an intriguing confrontation between City’s scoring machine and United’s evolving central defense partnership.

But while Sunday will clearly be a test for the Martinez-Varane axis, it will also be a challenge for Haaland, who is yet to play one of the Premier League’s so-called Big Six in a competitive game this season. In the Community Shield loss to Liverpool in August – a game not classified as a competitive match – Haaland looked frustrated against Virgil van Dijk, failing to score in a 3-1 loss. Haaland’s most significant contribution in that game was when he missed an open goal from 3 yards out in stoppage time.

How Haaland fares against United will be an interesting clue for months to come. If City’s supply line to their star striker is reduced when battling top teams, Guardiola’s side may not be quite as impressive as they have performed against many of the Premier League’s weaker sides.

Haaland is undoubtedly a goalscoring phenomenon and stopping him will be United’s main aim this weekend. But in Martinez they have at least one defender who knows exactly that. Can Martinez stop Haaland from scoring in Manchester derby?

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