Lautaro Martinez: Are we sleeping on the Inter Milan captain’s brilliance?

Lautaro Martinez continues to thrive at Inter Milan despite the continued change around him || Photo credit: IMAGO

Lautaro Martinez: Are we sleeping on the Inter Milan captain’s brilliance?

Seye Omidiora 08:00 - 15.09.2023

The Inter superstar is forging an exciting partnership with Marcus Thuram, just as he dovetailed with Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko. Could this be the year Lautaro claims his first Capocannoniere, dethroning Victor Osimhen?

The more things change for Lautaro Martinez, the more they stay the same. The Inter Milan striker has started 2023-24 in outstanding form, scoring five times in the first three gameweeks before the international break.

Five goals is one more than AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud has netted for the Rossoneri and two higher than last year’s Capocannoniere, Victor Osimhen.

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Lautaro Martinez’s previous partnerships at Inter

Martinez would have been forgiven if he did not begin the new campaign strongly. 

The 2022 World Cup winner was starting another season with a new striker partner — Marcus Thuram — when many expected Romelu Lukaku to return to San Siro either temporarily or permanently.

Lautaro Martinez
Marcus Thuram, not Romelu Lukaku, has been Lautaro Martinez's strike partner this season // Photo credit: IMAGO

LuLa dovetailed impressively in Inter’s title-winning campaign, and the Argentina international formed a functional relationship with Edin Dzeko for two seasons in 2021-22 and last term.

Martinez has scored double figures in the last four seasons at Inter, with 14 goals netted playing alongside Lukaku in 2019-20 before scoring three more when the Nerazzurri ended their Scudetto drought the following season.

Lautaro Martinez Lukaku
LuLa were a menacing partnership in Inter's title-winning 2020-21 campaign // Photo credit: IMAGO

Featuring alongside Dzeko in 2020-21, the Argentina striker notched 21 league goals. Featuring alongside Lukaku and Dzeko last term, he matched that tally in Serie A. 

Lautaro Martinez
Edin Dzeko replaced Lukaku as Lautaro's partner up top for a couple of seasons || Photo credit: IMAGO

The new season has only just begun, but Martinez is showing minimal signs of slowing down despite having a new partner up top. Instead, he sets the pace as the early-season front-runner to win the Capocannoniere.

Undaunted by the changes around him, Lautaro has assumed more responsibility at Inter in the last two years under Simone Inzaghi, who has been impressed by the Argentine and made him the club’s captain after Samir Handanovic departed this summer.

Lautaro Martinez
Lautaro Martinez has become Inter captain under Simone Inzaghi || Photo credit: IMAGO

“In these two years and a bit I have been at Inter, he has been growing exponentially,” the Inter boss said after a 2-0 triumph over Cagliari in August.

“He feels more and more responsibility; he has a key role in the way we interpret the game, and I am sure he will continue like this.”

Lautaro Martinez in Serie A this season

The Inter marksman led the team out as captain for the first time in a competitive game at San Siro, looking to get the upper hand over a Monza side that caused the Nerazzurri pain the previous year.

Lautaro Martinez
Martinez has scored a pair of braces after three gameweeks in Serie A || Photo credit: IMAGO

Inzaghi’s men could not secure maximum points against the Biancorossi, drawing at the U-Power Stadium in January and losing the reverse fixture at San Siro in mid-April. 

However, Martinez was decisive this time, notching his first brace of the season in a 2-0 triumph over the club that gained promotion in 2022.

Gameweek two saw El Toro score his ninth goal in as many games against new boys Cagliari as Inter effectively sealed the victory with two goals in the game’s opening half-hour. After two rounds, Martinez was level with Osimhen and Giroud on three Serie A goals.

The round before the international break brought Fiorentina head to head with the side that denied them last season’s Coppa Italia crown — Viola’s first title in 22 years. Vincenzo Italiano’s team were a thorn in Inter’s side last season, losing a rip-roaring seven-goal thriller 4-3 in Florence at the death before stunning the Nerazzurri 1-0 at San Siro at the start of April.

This season’s game was expected to be tricky, yet Lautaro’s second-half brace inspired Inter to a 4-0 victory, continuing their perfect start to the 2023-24 season without a goal conceded.

Not one to lose confidence, Martinez has not evaded any responsibility since becoming captain — not even when he hit the post early on against Cagliari or after Oliver Christensen denied him from close range in the Fiorentina game.

His emphatic finish to a sweeping counter-attack against Italiano’s side underscored the ambition to have the final say in that mini-battle with the Danish shot-stopper. And he was first to a Juan Cuadrado cross to score his fifth of the season.

The underlying numbers reveal a slight overperformance to Martinez’s return after three games, with the striker notching five goals from an expected goals (xG) tally of 2.9. This ideally should raise eyebrows about its sustainability. 

However, the 26-year-old has made it a habit of outdoing his expected numbers in three consecutive seasons, even if the outperformance two seasons back (0.1) was negligible, unlike in Inter’s title-winning season (1.8) and last year (2.9).

Lautaro’s current numbers highlight he is scoring more than expected (2.1), and it remains to be seen if he maintains this lofty form. Be that as it may, it puts the Inter captain in good stead heading into Saturday’s Derby della Madonnina.

Lautaro vs Giroud: Inter vs Milan

The first Milan derby of the season also pits both top-scoring frontmen at San Siro. Stefano Pioli’s men have not played their rivals since meekly surrendering to the Nerazzurri in last season’s Champions League semi-final — a match that highlighted the Rossoneri’s unhealthy dependence on Rafael Leao.

Milan are ostensibly in improved shape this term, with an influx of players made possible by Sandro Tonali’s sale to Newcastle United, thus making them many observers’ favourites for the Scudetto.

Giroud seems to be Lautaro’s closest challenger, even if the latter’s five goals coming from open play (three of the Frenchman’s four have been penalties) somewhat demonstrates the Argentine’s start to another year at Inter.

Olivier Giroud for Milan
Olivier Giroud has scored four times in Milan's first three games heading into the derby

The competition has been obsessed with Dusan Vlahovic and Lukaku in recent years, only for the pair to fall off for varying reasons afterwards. 

Last season was all about Victor Osimhen, but the Super Eagle possibly heading to Africa Cup of Nations duty with Nigeria in January puts him at a disadvantage for this year’s Capocannoniere.

Barring disruptive injuries — and they have been a rarity for Martinez at Inter — the Nerazzurri skipper should fancy his prospects of building on a promising start to another season.

Lautaro Martinez
Lautaro Martinez seeks to continue his impressive start to the new season in Saturday's Milan derby

Martinez made a late push to end atop the scoring charts in Serie A last season, but Osimhen did not let up. 

This term, El Toro has started like a man on a mission, seeking to accomplish individual and collective targets. This could be Lautaro’s year.