MILAN: The uncertainty over the future of leading scorer Mauro Icardi, which is still hanging over Inter Milan, has proved to be good news for his fellow Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez.
The 21-year-old joined Inter at the start of the season after an impressive three years at Racing Club but his similarity to Icardi has made coach Luciano Spalletti reluctant to field both, with Martinez invariably the one to lose out.
“They are very similar and you need to find the right moment to play them,” said Spalletti after the 1-0 win at Parma two weeks ago when Martinez scored the winner two minutes after coming on as a substitute.
But that has changed since Icardi was stripped of the captaincy last week because of the uncertainty caused by protracted negotiations over the renewal of his contract.
Icardi has missed two matches since the announcement, with Martinez starting both, and he is not in the squad either for the Europa League match at home to Rapid Vienna later on Thursday.
It was not clear whether Icardi would be available for Inter’s next match in Serie A which is away to Fiorentina on Sunday – a tough fixture against opponents who are unbeaten in eight games in all competitions.
Although Icardi has been Inter’s leading scorer in Serie A for the last four seasons, they have won their last two matches without him, beating Rapid 1-0 one week ago in Vienna and then Sampdoria 2-1 on Sunday.
Martinez was singled out for praise after scoring the winner in the Rapid game.
“He held the ball up, he pressed, he won the penalty and converted it,” said Spalletti. “Much of the result is due to his desire to fight for every ball.
“He is comfortable in the centre-forward role but he will have to prove that he can always be lethal inside the area.”
Inter remain third in Serie A with 46 points, 20 behind leaders Juventus but on course for next season’s Champions League.
The Icardi saga continued on Sunday when his wife and agent Wanda Nara made a tearful television appearance where she said that being stripped of the captaincy was like “losing a leg” for Icardi.
Icardi has also complained of knee pain and underwent an MRI scan on Wednesday, but the club said it found nothing wrong.
“The scans didn’t reveal significant changes compared to those performed before the start of the current season,” said Inter in a statement.
Nara has made a number of comments on social media but Spalletti said the issue should be settled face-to-face, the old-fashioned way.
“These things can’t be fixed via a chat, tweets, views or likes (on social media),” he said. “You resolve them face-to-face, with words.”
“Maybe if we could remember how we used to fix these things, it would be easier. Back in my day, we used to go around things that way and it is still useful despite the world’s advance in technology.”