Great anticipation greeted Sunday’s Serie A debut for Internazionale’s latest import from South America, Lautaro Martinez.
Martinez, 20, was snatched up from Racing Club in July for €22.7 million (Dh95.4m). A plethora of European sides had coveted his signature, including Madrid rivals Real and Atletico.
This sense of excitement was only added to by a promising pre-season that contained four goals in seven run-outs for the Argentina forward. But he never looked like adding to this tally when the Nerazzurri’s top-flight commitments got under way with a disappointing 1-0 reversal at Sassuolo.
Here, we analyse the performance of Inter’s marquee summer buy:
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 0
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 33
Passes – 15
Key passes – 0
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 3
Inter head coach Luciano Spalletti’s tactical rejig continued, with the Italian moving away from last term’s 4-2-3-1 formation and placing Martinez behind lone striker Icardi in a 4-4-1-1.
Nascent signs of a budding partnership had been witnessed in pre-season between the Argentines. But a step-up in intensity saw this relationship break down.
Martinez was dispossessed more than any team-mate (three), plus produced zero key passes and shots. Sassuolo also gave him no room to manoeuvre, inflicting five fouls on the attacker – the joint-highest for Inter.
7 - Sassuolo have won more matches versus Inter in Serie A than against any other side – winning 7 of the 11 fixtures. Torment. #SassuoloInter— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) August 19, 2018
Kept on trying – Martinez left Mapei Stadium-Citta del Tricolore with both body and ego bruised. The hosts inflicted heavy handed treatment throughout, meaning this was a harsh introduction to elite European football after 22 goals in 48 league matches for Racing.
Only Ghana wide man Kwadwo Asamoah suffered more fouls than Martinez (six to five) – and he stayed on for all 90 minutes.
To his credit, Martinez attempted to play with bravery despite his 33 touches being the lowest of any outfield starter for Inter. They must back his talent over time.
Leaving his mark – Success on the pitch has come quick for the sublimely talented Martinez.
But space, time and protection granted to him in Argentina was not present in Serie A. The key to long-term success is doing more with less.
An efficiency must be introduced to his game during the months ahead if Inter’s impressive refit is to reach its potential.
1st min FOUL: Welcome to European football. Martinez is upended near the halfway line, just moments after kick-off.
39th min WASTED CHANCE: Martinez finally finds the space he craves, picking up the ball in a promising counter-attacking position. He looks up and dreadfully overhits his pass to strike partner and countryman Mauro Icardi.
69th min SUBSTITUTED: A tough bow is brought to a premature end by Spalletti. Fellow summer addition Keita Balde comes on.
Martinez has wasted no time making the move across the Atlantic Ocean.
He only turns 21-years old later on Wednesday. This is why alarmist reactions should not greet a debut that was fitful at best.
The awful pitch at Mapei Stadium didn’t help. Neither teething problems, as Spalletti attempts to tweak the way 2017/18’s fourth-placed finishers set-up in order to fit Martinez in.
Judging by the exquisite goals and performances in pre-season, much better is to come. From player and club.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
Portugal forward Ronaldo took centre stage at the Bentegodi on his competitive debut following his summer transfer from Real Madrid.
However, it needed a huge team effort from the defending champions to secure three points in Verona.
Following a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of Tuesday’s bridge collapse in Genoa, Sami Khedira fired Juve into an early lead.
Chievo, however, equalised through a header from Mariusz Stepinski and then took the lead at the start of the second half through a penalty from former Juve winger Emanuele Giaccherini.
An own goal by defender Mattia Bani level things up again on 77 minutes before the most dramatic of finales.
Substitute Mario Mandzukic thought he had won it with a late header, given by goalline technology.
However, the effort was to be ruled out following a referral by the Video Assistant Referee after Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino had taken a heavy blow from Ronaldo in the build-up.
Juve, aiming to deliver a record eighth successive serie a crown, did score a legitimate winner deep into five minutes of stoppage time when substitute Federico Bernardeschi turned in a low cross from Alex Sandro.
In Saturday’s evening kick-off, Napoli came from behind to win 2-1 at Lazio.
Last season’s runners-up, now with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, found themselves behind on 25 minutes following a fine individual goal from Ciro Immobile.
The Italy forward collected a long pass from Francesco Acerbi, before turning clear and curling the ball into the top corner.
After Napoli had a goal from Arkadiusz Milik ruled out by the VAR for a foul in the build-up, the Pole then did get on the scoresheet in added time at the end of the first half.
Lorenzo Insigne’s ball to the back post was knocked down and Milik put it into the net.
On the hour, Insigne scored what proved to be the winner with another fine curling effort.
Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi then saw a late effort hit the post.
With the summer transfer window now slammed shut in Serie A, the focus turns to the pitch with the big kick-off coming this weekend.
However, there were some excellent deals brokered during the off-season which deserve a mention again.
Aside from Cristiano Ronaldo, we look back at the top five pieces of business made by Italian clubs throughout June, July and August.
Like with the rest of European football, there was no shortage of cash flying around.
Justin Kluivert – Ajax to Roma
The Ajax prodigy, son of Barcelona and Netherlands legend Patrick, completed his €17.25 million switch to the Stadio Olimpico in June and is one of the standout young talents in European football, given he is only 19 years of age.
Operating predominantly from the left wing, Kluivert also has an eye for goal – netting 11 goals in all competitions last term – and could grow into a central striker in the coming years in Italy.
He already seems like he is a willing and quick learner, meaning he should thrive in Eusebio Di Francesco’s talented outfit.
The fee the Giallorossi paid for his services already looks like an absolute snip.
Still only 24, acquiring the versatile German’s talents on a free transfer was a significant coup for the Old Lady. The deal, in truth, took a while to get over the line following protracted talks but it should prove to be more than worthwhile in the end.
Can’s final campaign at Anfield was frustrating, largely due to injury in the second-half of the season, however, there is no denying his quality and powerful presence in the engine room.
Signing for the Serie A champions during the same summer as Cristiano Ronaldo means he will start the new term a little under the radar, but that could suit him.
The former Bayern Munich star is used to being around the set-up of a big club and has the potential to enjoy an interchanging midfield partnership with both Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira.
Lautaro Martinez – Racing Club to Inter Milan
The Nerazzurri have a major talent at their disposal in the form of the 20-year-old Argentine.
Inter beat a whole host of clubs to the coveted No10’s signature this summer, paying a reported €22.7 million for his services.
While we did not see Martinez at the World Cup, he is billed as perhaps La Albiceleste’s brightest future star and should be the perfect foil for main hitman Mauro Icardi and Croatian creator Ivan Perisic.
Having penned a five-year deal, there is room for plenty of growth at the San Siro and he is set to form a key part of Inter’s plans to halt the dominance of Juventus.
Leonardo Bonucci – AC Milan to Juventus
The 31-year-old Turin icon made an emotional return to Juventus Stadium this week having spent just one campaign with Milan.
Bonucci, who arrived back at the club in a part-exchange deal involving Mattia Caldara and some cash, can now reform the bedrock of the Juventus backline alongside fellow cult hero Giorgio Chiellini.
Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri has strengthened in all areas this summer and re-signing the talismanic skipper looks like being his best move yet, despite Ronaldo’s presence.
Radja Nainggolan – Roma to Inter Milan
The Belgian midfielder is never one to shy away from controversy but could instantly become a fans’ favourite at the San Siro.
There is no doubt his World Cup omission by Roberto Martinez will have fired him up ahead of the new campaign, with Luciano Spalletti – his one-time boss at Roma – taking the chance to bring his former charge to Inter.
Nainggolan may have to bide his time to really secure his place in what is a competitive looking midfield, but expect the 30-year-old to do that and become a hit.
Still, he needs to justify his €38 million price tag quickly, given both Davide Santon and Nicolo Zaniolo headed in the opposite direction as part of the transfer.