Gonzalo Martinez has divided sections of River Plate fans with his immense talent and inconsistency since joining River from Huracan in 2015. However, he has experienced a sharp upturn in form since the turn of the year after he was backed by his teammates in a meeting organized by River’s neuroscience specialist, Sandra Rossi. The 23-year-old has 2 goals and 3 assists since the resumption of the Argentine Primera Division as well as three man of the match performances as he has been involved in 6 of the 13 goals, River has scored this year.
The man who was given the moniker, ‘Pity’ is always willing to rush to press the opposition, especially after he loses the ball. He is the catalyst for many turnovers River win in the opposition half as this helps create chances, especially with the lethargic and pedestrian build-up play that has plagued the Argentine side for most of the season. However, there have been times where River’s first wave of pressure has not been coordinated and Martinez has rushed from his wide position into a central position to pressure the ball, giving the opposition defense an out ball on his flank. In the future, he will need to be more aware of when to hold his position and deny the opposition a passing option during the pressing phase and when to pressure the man on the ball which is a part of his game which will be developed with the coaching he receives in the future.
‘Pity’ Martinez’ is not the most pacy player in the Argentine Primera Division but his ability to use beguiling turns of pace to earn him an extra yard to find a pass or his ability to turn so sharply with the ball at his feet makes him a very effective dribbler. He is more fundamental than elastic with his dribbling style as he weaves through players like he is dribbling through cones in a training drill. Martinez is left footed but the use of his right foot is not very prevalent in his game but is subtle in his dribbling to nudge the ball past players. His ball control is also very well developed as this helps as a dribbler to challenge players. He can weave past players with runs in the center or he can draw defenders into one-on-one situations where he skips past them with ease.
The Argentine playmaker’s ability to receive the ball in high-pressure situations and distribute the ball effectively is very impressive. His ability to pass the ball intuitively allows him to finish his fine dribbling sequences with simple passes or more elaborate line-breaking passes. In the higher and wider positions of the opposition half, he favors the cut-back to the top of the box while he enjoys cutting in and playing accurate diagonals to the opposite flank which is an important skill to have, especially playing on a team that dominates the ball and regularly has to penetrate deep defensive blocks.
River Plate manager, Marcelo Gallardo has shown a lot of faith in him and tried to move him into a more central role in a 3-4-1-2 during the mid-season break. River currently play a 4-2-2-2/4-3-1-2/3-2-3-2 or 4-3-3/3-4-3 system where Martinez and left-winger Ariel Rojas regularly switch flanks. Martinez is encouraged to move into a more central role to receive the ball when it is on the opposite flank so he can distribute to runners in the channels and make use of the pockets in the center. Martinez also links attacks together as it only seems to be a matter of time before Gallardo positions him in the center from the start of games.
The River Plate number 10 possesses an innate sense of timing and movement in the channels as his ability to use both feet to dribble, pass and cross makes him a threat in the final third. In the dying minutes of River’s away match against Lanus, he drove in from the right flank to play in Lucas Alario with a magnificent through ball for the Argentine striker to cut back for Carlos Auzqui to tap in. Away to Godoy Cruz, he played another through ball from the left for Alario to score.
His ability to try speculative through balls and move the ball quickly and effectively onto runners in the channels has given Gallardo’s side another dimension. He has taken on more creative responsibility since Andres D’Alessandro returned to Internacional as his decision making in high-pressure situations such as counter-attacks is phenomenal. He would have had another assist if Tomas Andrade had finished a counter-attacking move where Martinez broke and put him through on an open goal for the youngster to miss as River’s finishing can be erratic at times. When River switch to a 3-4-3, he normally has midfielder Ignacio Fernandez moving on the outside of him so he can push into the front three and act as the creative hub of the team as he also has the option of drifting wider to link up with Fernandez and fullback Jorge Moreira.
Martinez could be more accurate with his shooting, especially from range as in a recent match against Belgrano, he attempted 7 shots with only 2 on target. With Driussi and Alario occupying the central areas, Martinez has been very clever in cutting in and shooting when he is playing out wide. When he moves into the center and the ball is on the opposite flank, he tends to hold his run and wait for a teammate to cut it back to him so he can shoot from the top of the box. It is surprising that a player so technically gifted chooses to go for power rather than accuracy when he is shooting as his misses can be more frustrating in a team as laborious in build-up play as River have been this season.
Martinez is River’s designated free-kick taker and corner-kick taker as he has stung the palms of keepers with his accurate free kicks of late. He scored one against Lanus from a central position while he provides some accurate and brilliantly swung deliveries from free-kicks out wide. He set-up Rodrigo Mora from a corner recently against Godoy Cruz while he tends to cross to the near post too frequently with his deliveries into the box. He is developing into a set-piece specialist with his stronger left foot.
River Plate had five wins in a row before drawing with Sarmiento as they have moved from seventh to fourth in hopes of catching bitter rivals Boca Juniors in first as ‘Pity’ Martinez has been crucial to this. If his second half of the season, continues on the same trajectory as it has begun, he will be on the radar of some European clubs. At 23-years-old and with Marcelo Gallardo, who has given him a lot of trust during his time at River, probably leaving at the end of the season, a move elsewhere could be beneficial. Technique and creativity like his could be worth it’s wait in gold for mid-table clubs in La Liga and Serie A as is his ability to play in the centre at a team that plays with an attacking midfielder or as a wide playmaker in a team that does not play with an attacking midfielder. He is River’s third top scorer and leading assister with 4 goals and 3 assists. One hopes he can continue developing his game as one of River’s most important players.