Last night, the infamous CONMEBOL eliminatorias began. The double round-robin format is the toughest World Cup qualifying campaign on Earth, making for entertaining matches every international break they happen. A rejuvenated Argentina kicked off against Ecuador last night in Buenos Aires, winning 1-0 thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty. For Fiorentina fans, it was the first chance to view new signing Lucas Martínez Quarta (or LMQ), since his move to Florence. LMQ started at right center back next to Nicolas Otamendi for the Albiceleste. He clearly impressed, as he was voted man of the match by readers of the Argentinian newspaper Olé. The Argentine media has not stopped raving about the composure of the 24-year-old in his first competitive international match. Below is a compilation of his play yesterday, fitting the description of what I heard while his transfer-saga dragged on last week. What does his success last night mean for Fiorentina? I’ll add a couple of thoughts.
1: Franck Ribery is going to love playing with him
Look at the passes that LMQ hits at the 0:01 and 0:28 marks. Both split the entirety of the Ecuador midfield, forcing one of Ecuador’s center backs to step up to prevent the Argentinian attacker from being able to turn and dribble straight at goal. Currently, Fiorentina does not have a center back on the roster who can consistently and confidently play those line splitting passes, forcing Franck Ribery to drop extremely deep to try and pick up the ball and create. With Martínez Quarta, however, Ribery may be able to start higher up the field and pick up the ball in more dangerous positions via an LMQ midfield-splitting pass. From there, Ribery can directly attack the goal, with Christian Kouame, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Jose Callejon making runs off him. Ribery is the most talented player on Fiorentina’s roster, and Fiorentina will score more goals and win more games if LMQ’s passing allows Ribery to be even better.
2: He can run as well as pass
One of Martin Caceres’ best benefits for Fiorentina is that Caceres still has the recovery speed necessary to make up for his own mistakes and bail out his teammates’. Not only is Martínez Quarta better with the ball than Caceres, he has that speed as well. Starting at 0:18, LMQ successfully stays with Enner Valencia for over 40 yards, times a tackle to perfection to gain possession, and then calmly dribbles and plays a pass to Otamendi. Don’t forget that Valencia’s speed is a key part of his game, and Martínez Quarta just showed that he has the legs to keep up with and eventually win the ball from speedy players. This speed means that Cristiano Biraghi or Sofyan Amrabat will not have to worry about staying deep in possession to prevent counterattacks when LMQ eventually replaces Caceres in the lineup. Another example where Martínez Quarta may make Fiorentina’s attack better despite being a center back.
3: Beppe needs to figure out where to use him, and quickly
It may sound obvious, but a Fiorentina player getting man of the match in an Argentinean World Cup qualifier is a big deal- especially when the lone goalscorer is Lionel Messi. I can guarantee sporting directors around Europe were wondering this morning why they had not pursued LMQ more, given his fit in the modern European game. For Fiorentina, Martínez Quarta’s play is welcome news, but also may create more headaches for Guiseppe Iachini. Martínez Quarta has only played in a back four, but that is unlikely in Florence for several reasons. First, Beppe loves three at the back, and has shown no interest in changing that this season. Second, LMQ in a back four would likely mean Nikola Milenkovic playing right back, which feels like a waste of talent (although Callejon at wing-back is equally so). Martínez Quarta likely could play on the left of a back three, demonstrated by the beautiful 40-yard pass he plays at 1:00 above with his weak foot. We need to give LMQ an adjustment period, as learning a new league and culture is difficult enough for any player. But, with the clear level of talent he possesses, it will be tough for Iachini to keep him out of the starting lineup for long.