Mainoo 2.0: Ten Hag could find surprise Martinez replacement in “bright” Man Utd teen

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With a decisive 3-0 victory over West Ham United at Old Trafford on Sunday, Manchester United moved up into the top six in the Premier League.

After a fantastic first goal from Rasmus Hojlund, two goals from Alejandro Garnacho sent the Red Devils above the Hammers and up to sixth place in the standings.

With three wins over West Ham, four against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and four against Newport County, Erik ten Hag’s team is currently five games unbeaten across all competitions.

But in the second half of United’s victory over David Moyes’ team, Lisandro Martinez suffered a knee injury that may have dealt a serious blow to the team.

The Argentina international was unable to continue after an awkward landing with Vladimir Coufal. Ten Hag has now acknowledged that there is a “bad concern” around this matter, but the team is still awaiting confirmation of the severity of the blow in the coming days.

Having only recently had the center-back available following a protracted foot injury, the Dutch head coach may now be forced to make another change to his starting lineup. Willy Kambwala’s return from the U23s might provide a shocking substitute.

Kobbie Mainoo is the ideal illustration of how United may look to the academy to identify new talent in order to solve issues with their first squad.

The rise of Kobbie Mainoo this season

The 18-year-old skillful wizard has made nine Premier League starts so far this season after working his way into the starting lineup.

Ten Hag has shown faith in the young talent, and he has been repaid with a number of outstanding performances at the centre of the Red Devils midfield.

With an impressive 53% duel success rate, 2.7 tackles, and interceptions per game, Mainoo has established himself as a defensive force. This demonstrates that he possesses the physicality to compete in physical fights despite his advanced age and his ability to put his foot in to block opponent attacks.

In addition, he has completed 85% of his passes. Most recently, he made headlines when he scored the game-winning goal in the thrilling 4-3 triumph over Wolves.

hojlund, mainoo, Manchester United, and wolves
In the 97th minute, the English dynamo expertly outmuscled many players around the box before rushing into the area and unleashing a flawless goal into the far bottom corner to secure all three points for his team.

At the age of 18, Mainoo came up big when it counted to win the game for his team. This remarkable young player sets a great example for the club’s younger U23 players, showing them what they can accomplish if they seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

Given the chance, Kambwala, another academy product who might become a first-team possibility because of Martinez’s absence, could replace Mainoo, a crucial player for United.

The significance of Lisandro Martinez to United

Despite being limited to just eight Premier League games this season, the World Cup winner has shown himself to be an excellent player when healthy.

In those eight top-flight games, Martinez has averaged 1.9 tackles, 2.3 interceptions, 2.3 clearances, and 94% of his throws completed.

Additionally, the 26-year-old is among the top 15% of centre backs in the division for progressive carries (1.29 per 90) and top 28% for progressive passes (4.52) per 90.

Todibo, Jean-Clair, Lisandro Martínez, Tottenham, Opinion
Martinez participated in 27 of the team’s 38 Premier League games during the previous campaign, catching fans’ attention with his reliable back-row efforts for the Red Devils.

With a 60% duel success rate, he outperformed opposing attackers in physical clashes, indicating that forwards found it difficult to overcome him during the year.

Along with his 87% pass completion percentage, the United star also made 3.2 tackles and interceptions a game. He demonstrated his ball handling skills and defensive prowess by consistently finding teammates in control.

Why Kambwala can surprise everyone by replacing Martinez

Raphael Varane’s contract expires in the summer, so while Martinez heals from this most recent setback, United could be better off looking to the future and finding a partner for Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelof.

Tag Hag ought to give Kambwala the chance to demonstrate that he can be a part of the long-term plan if the France international won’t be playing at Old Trafford the following season.

Premier League Raphael Varane
Despite a 2-0 loss to West Ham at the London Stadium, the 19-year-old showed flashes of his center-back skills when he made his Premier League debut earlier this season.

In his 84 minutes on the pitch versus the Hammers, Kambwala completed five progressive passes and two progressive carries. In contrast, Martinez’s 2022–2023 Premier League stats included 3.53 progressive passes and 0.51 progressive carries per 90.

While there’s no assurance the young player could maintain that level of performance throughout a top-flight campaign, it does indicate that, like the Argentine giant, he is a forward-thinking defender who enjoys moving play along with the ball at his feet.

In addition to being calm and methodical when in possession, Kambwala has the makings of a capable defender who can recover possession of the ball and dominate opponents’ attackers.

23/24 EFL Trophy

Willy Kambwala, sourced from Sofascore



each game’s tackle total


Every game, interceptions


Ball recoveries in each match


Double success rate


The table above shows how the youthful colossus, who ten Hag said had a “bright” future, can contribute impressively at the back. He wins most of his battles and stops several attacks with tackles and interceptions each game.

In the 4-2 FA Cup victory over Newport County, Kambwala demonstrated his physical prowess in a first-team environment by winning five of his six duels—including all four of his aerial contests—after coming off the bench.

Hence, rather than selecting Varane as an experienced option, Ten Hag might find a surprise replacement for Martinez by giving the U23 youngster regular playing time to grow and establish himself as a first-team starter, much like Mainoo has done recently.

The numbers cited above indicate that he has the ability to be a valuable member of the Red Devils, and it will be intriguing to watch how he performs if given the opportunity to shine.

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