LAUTARO Martinez’s Camp Nou audition went rather well. It took the Argentine less than two minutes to open the scoring for Inter, making the most of a fortunate ricochet in behind the Barcelona defence to hold off Clement Lenglet and slide a finish past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen into the back of the net.
It was the sort of opportunism Luis Suarez has made a career out of and the sort of moment that proved Martinez, in the minds of many, to be the heir apparent to the Barcelona forward. Speculation surrounding the 22-year-old’s future has heightened on a near weekly basis since then, to the point where it now seems inevitable that Martinez will be a Barca player sooner rather than later.
One wonders how Suarez feels about all this. It was the Uruguayan who scored the late winner on the same night Martinez made his mark at the Camp Nou in what was an irresistible moment of retaliation. This is a forward who has scored 11 times in 17 La Liga appearances this season, a forward who has more than once shrugged off efforts to replace him.
Antoine Griezmann was, after all, widely seen as the long term replacement for Suarez when he arrived from Atletico Madrid in a controversial €120 million deal last summer and yet the Frenchman has been asked to play the Neymar role this season, stuck out on the left wing to provide Barcelona’s frontline with some balance. In the hierarchy of the Barca attack, Suarez still sits above Griezmann.
This shouldn’t mask that Suarez is undeniably a player, or at the very least a physical force, on the decline. Injuries are becoming a more frequent occurrence for the Uruguayan and his recoveries are getting longer. Jibes have been made over Suarez’s waistline this season, but beyond the childishness there is a genuine discussion to be had around his fitness levels.
[MARCA] | Barcelona delay over Lautaro and now risk losing him
Over the past few months Barcelona have pursued Lautaro Martinez. But, just as the Catalan club seem to be making some progress, the transfer is held up for one reason or another. pic.twitter.com/ZmSSky0LPq
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) June 7, 2020
Martinez is 11 years Suarez’s junior. He possesses the same wriggly quality as the Uruguayan, capable of keeping the ball at his feet when it seems impossible to do so, squirming through the grasp of opposition defenders, and is a pure opportunist, as demonstrated in the Champions League meeting with Barca back in October.
The two players see space in the way few others do and have the drive and determination to exploit it. In an era of 4-2-3-1, Martinez also has experience of linking up with other centre forwards, forging a formidable partnership with Romelu Lukaku at Inter. Forging an understanding with Griezmann and, of course, Lionel Messi is a prerequisite for any Barca striker right now.
But Suarez will still get the chance to prove Barcelona don’t need Martinez. Not at this moment in time, anyway. The Catalans have declared the 33-year-old fit to play again with the 2019/20 La Liga season set to resume this week after a three-month hiatus due to the global coronavirus pandemic, giving all at the Camp Nou a timely boost.
Just one point divides Barca and Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and so Suarez could have a significant influence on whose hands the Spanish title ends up in. His relationship with Messi remains the strongest in the European game, with the two players as close off the pitch as they are on it.
Suarez will need to be replaced one day, but the man himself will now make the case for it to happen further down the line. A scoring streak between now and the end of July, when La Liga hopes to have concluded the season, might make Barcelona think again on where there prioritise for the summer window lie, and whether the €111 million required to release Martinez from his Inter contract would be better spent elsewhere.