Inter were knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Napoli on Saturday evening, drawing 1-1 on the night, but losing 2-1 on aggregate. All the talk post-match however, revolved around one superstar who never quite got into gear.
Lautaro Martinez is Europe’s most wanted hitman, and unfortunately for the Italian giants, the jewel in their crown has had his head turned. La Liga champions Barcelona are the club in question, and when la Blaugrana has a target in their crosshairs, they rarely miss.
Despite not kicking a single ball in the past three months, all the gossip columns have focused on Martinez and his impending move to Catalonia, and for many experts, it’s a case of when, and not if, the 22-year-old swaps San Siro for Camp Nou.
So with his Inter fate up in the air, the ex-Racing Club striker will be auditioning for his dream move to Barça every time he steps on the pitch for the rest of the season. But as far as opening nights go, it was an underwhelming display from the much-fancied forward.
Martinez cut a very frustrated figure at times, and he was anonymous throughout the opening half hour. And when his moment arrived, he fluffed his lines, slicing an effort into the sky when he should have at least tested the goalkeeper.
And sadly, the second half continued in much the same vein as the first. While strike partner Romelu Lukaku was bringing his teammates into the game with some excellent hold-up play and clever touches, Martinez cast a lonely shadow, isolated, despite being completely surrounded by colleagues.
As the game wore on, Inter’s reliance on conjuring something special became more and more evident, as Napoli frustrated them with some excellent defensive resilience. But that spark was not coming from The Bull. Countless crosses rained down from the left and right, as Inter’s wing-backs and overlapping centre-backs looked to pick out their clinical forwards from wide areas.
But Martinez was in the wrong place at the wrong time for every whipped delivery, and he rarely looked like testing David Ospina. And inevitably, the time came when Conte had seen enough. The Argentine was replaced by Alexis Sanchez on 72 minutes, and in his mini 18-minute cameo, the Chilean caused more headaches for the Napoli backline than his predecessor provided all game.
Questions will be raised by this performance. Was this a display of a man whose head is already in Catalonia? Can Conte rely on him for the remainder of the season? Was it just an off day?
The chances are, it’s probably the latter.
Martinez still has plenty to prove, and he’ll know how important these coming weeks are in the trajectory of his entire career. So he will have to take whatever criticism he receives over the next week or so on the chin, and concentrate on proving his doubters wrong.
There’s still a title to fight for, after all.
Inter have had their fair share of moody prima donnas downing tools in the past, and the fanbase is mentally not ready to have to endure another. But Martinez does not strike us as that type of person. And anyway, who would want to be spoken of in the same breath as Mauro Icardi?
That in itself, is enough motivation to get your shooting boots on.
All in all then, a bad day at the office for Lautaro. Fortunately, Barça were in action themselves tonight, so here’s hoping that they forget to press record on the Coppa Italia semi-final before heading to Mallorca. Fingers crossed.