Can Martinez carry Maguire? Man Utd's new cult hero has silenced critics but must now make do without Varane
"I’m convinced this can’t work because he’s the size of 5’9 playing in a back four," Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said of Lisandro Martinez after Manchester United’s 4-0 humiliation at Brentford in August.
"He cannot play there in the Premier League. Every single team that play Manchester United should target him."
Martinez has since made the ex-Liverpool defender eat his words, inspiring United’s resurgence under Erik ten Hag with a string of colossal displays at the back alongside Raphael Varane.
The so-called Butcher of Amsterdam has shown exactly why United paid £46.5 million ($53m) to sign him from Ajax in the summer, with his aggressive, front-footed style perfectly complementing Varane’s speed and technical proficiency.
"He’s a warrior and I think the fans will admire him. He has an attitude, fighting spirit," Ten Hag told United's website after Martinez's initial arrival.
The Dutch manager has been vindicated, but Martinez is about to face his toughest test yet in a United shirt - one that could make or break his Old Trafford career.
The question is, can the Argentina international be as effective without Varane playing next to him?
The Frenchman left United’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Saturday in tears, and it is now feared that an apparent hamstring injury could see him miss the remainder of his team’s pre-World Cup fixtures.
Rio Ferdinand expressed his concern after the game via his YouTube channel FIVE.
"Martinez has been top this season but Varane gives us that something different, that speed, that experience and physicality," said the United legend. "I think he could be a huge loss.
"You need them two [Varane and Martinez] back together. We've seen straight away that those two together make us a different team, it's as simple as that."
Victor Lindelof replaced Varane at Stamford Bridge, but club captain Harry Maguire returned from his own hamstring issue in United’s Europa League clash against Sheriff on Thursday.
Maguire lost his place to Martinez before being sidelined.
Ten Hag hasn’t risked playing them together since the Brentford loss, but he may have no choice but to test their partnership again heading into a run of five games in the space of 14 days.
In a 2-1 home defeat against Brighton on the season's opening weekend, Maguire admitted that he and Martinez were not on the same ''wavelength''. In truth, Maguire’s lack of pace and basic mistakes in possession left Martinez exposed.
Martinez has proven his small stature does not hinder his ability to shine in the Premier League, but carrying an out-of-sorts Maguire may be too much to ask.
The United skipper has been a liability when fit for several months, and needs to go back to the drawing board in order to rediscover his best form.
Martinez, meanwhile, should be given as much help as possible after forming a connection with supporters few players have managed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Martinez celebrated Casemiro’s last-gasp equaliser against Chelsea by jumping into the stands to embrace a stranger, and wrote on social media after the game: "Mate I don’t know you but we’re in this together. Fighting until the end."
Chants of ‘Argentina, Argentina’ among the United faithful during a 2-0 victory over Tottenham last week left Martinez humbled and overwhelmed.
"To be honest, it's very emotional for me. I'm at one of the best clubs in the world," he told the club’s official website. "This stadium, the atmosphere is amazing. When I heard the fans singing, I wanted to cry."
The 24-year-old’s passion and will to win has rubbed off on his team-mates, and as a result, the fans are fully behind the squad after a near-decade-long period of division.
Maguire must match the standards Martinez has set if he is drafted back into Ten Hag’s lineup, otherwise, much of United’s hard work over the past two months will be undone.
United will move to within touching distance of the top four if they pick up a home win against West Ham on Sunday, but it is no exaggeration to say that the three points could hinge on who Ten Hag decides to play next to Martinez.
If it's Lindelof, a new partnership could be forged that sees the team safely through to Christmas with Champions League ambitions still firmly intact.
But if Maguire gets the nod, he must be ready to drop his ego, having claimed that his critics simply "like the clicks" on social media when addressing his poor form in September.
Martinez deserves a centre-back ally that shares his values and is ready to fight for the collective cause – not one that will force him onto the backfoot and give pundits such as Carragher fresh ammunition to question his credentials.