Lisandro Martinez has already cracked the code to silence Erling Haaland for more than 90 minutes. When the Manchester United defender played for Ajax last October in a 4-0 Champions League win over Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund, the Argentine international worked in tandem with defending partner Jurrien Timber to nullify the threat that this man is now tearing the Premier League apart with Manchester City.

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Haaland had chances to score at the Johan Cruijff Arena, but Martinez and Timber’s defensive work – along with manager Erik ten Hag’s tactical plan – ensured that the game ended with Haaland being beaten, a rarity for him. dial.

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Nearly 12 months later, Martinez and Haaland will face each other again on Sunday when Ten Haga’s United travel to the Etihad in the first Manchester derby of the season. Both are in the early stages of their careers at their new clubs following summer transfers, and both have emerged as two standout newcomers to the Premier League this season. Although there will be a number of key battles that will affect the outcome of Sunday’s game, the head-to-head meeting between Martinez and Haaland may be the most decisive.

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If Martinez, probably with the help of his defensive partner Rafael Varane, can enjoy another 90 minutes without Haaland scoring, then United’s chances of beating Pep Guardiola’s team will be much better. However, Haaland proves almost unstoppable in a City jersey.

In 10 games in all competitions for his new club, the 22-year-old has scored 14 goals and only Bournemouth – yes, Bournemouth, who lost 9-0 to Liverpool – have prevented him from scoring in a competitive match. Although he failed to score a goal in City’s 4-0 victory over the Cherries, he still provided an assist, finding a way to make a big difference.

On paper, Holland vs. Martinez should be a mismatch. The City striker is 6ft 4in and has the build of a heavyweight boxer, while Martinez is only 5ft 9in and relatively lean, but what he lacks in physical prowess the 24-year-old certainly makes up for. in perseverance and his ability to read the game. After playing alongside Harry Maguire in United’s first two Premier League defeats to Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford, a number of respected former players have cited Martinez’s height – or lack thereof – as a problem that would prevent him to succeed in English football.

“I’m convinced it won’t work because its size [Martinez] played in the back four,” said former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher after United lost 2-1 to Brighton and 4-0 to Brentford. back four, he can’t play in the premier league there.

“His passing is very good, he looks aggressive. He looks like a leader. He’s a good player, but to play this level of football at 5ft 9in, I wouldn’t want to play alongside someone who is 5 years old. -foot-9 as a centre-back.”

Small size is not necessarily a critical disadvantage against a striker like Haaland. At the end of the day, the Norwegian international doesn’t differentiate between certain types of defenders – he scores with all of them, whether they’re big or small, fast or slow.

Former United defender Jaap Stam, a member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1999 treble-winning team, believes Martinez has shown he has the qualities to dispel the stereotype that small defenders can’t succeed in the Premier League. “It was easy, the day he signed for United, I already said they were going to talk about his growth,” Stam told the Manchester Evening News. “Here [in England]everyone thinks that a central defender has to be big and tall, otherwise you won’t succeed.

“Of course, sometimes he is surprised, but it’s the same as with the big players – they make mistakes too. Martinez shows his quality on the ball, he shows his quality in defense and he has good communication with him. you just have to keep going.”

Against Dortmund, Martinez and Timber shared defensive duties covering Haaland. At 5’10”, Timber also lacked height and power against a striker, but as one defender went down and another got close to Haaland, Ajax were able to stop him from scoring a goal.

At 6ft 3in, the French international Varane will give United and Ten Hag a combination of height, strength and speed against City that should provide an exciting showdown between City’s goal machine and United’s emerging central defensive partnership.

But while Sunday will clearly be a test of the Martinez-Varane axis, it will also be a test for Haaland, who has yet to face one of the Premier League’s so-called “Big Six” in a competitive fixture this season. In August’s loss to Liverpool in the Community Shield – a game not classified as competitive – Haaland put in a disappointing performance against Virgil van Dijk and failed to score in a 3-1 defeat. Haaland’s most significant contribution to that game was that he missed a goal from 3 yards in stoppage time.

How Haaland performs against United will be an interesting metric for the coming months. If City’s supply line to their star striker shrinks as they take on top teams, Guardiola’s side may not be as formidable as they have looked against many of the Premier League’s weaker sides.

Haaland is undeniably a phenomenal goalscorer and stopping him will be United’s main challenge this weekend. However, in Martinez, they at least have a defender who knows how to do it.