For a significant portion of the season, Tagliafico and Martínez played side-by-side in Ajax's back line. Just how did they contribute to the double-winning side? Where did the Argentinian duo excel?
In 25 Eredivisie matches, Nico Tagliafico regained possession from the opponents 199 times. His fellow countryman Lisandro Martínez did so 208 times in 26 league matches. In terms of the percentage of their defensive duels won, both defenders were equally outstanding. Martínez won 69% of his defensive duels Tagliafico did slightly better with 70%.
The Argentines also racked up a significant number of tackles over the course of the season. In the Eredivisie, Tagliafico made 33 tackles and Martínez added 18 more.
The pair are widely revered in the Netherlands for their excellent mentality, with which they add a unique quality to Ajax in contrast to the Dutch style. Trainer Erik ten Hag made it clear he is quite pleased with this attitude. "In South America - and Argentina in particular - players have the absolute will to win. This has to do with controlled emotion. Being able to introduce "grinta" is an important weapon."
It is no surprise that Licha earned the nickname "Butcher Martínez.” Do not let the nickname fool you, though, as he is also excellent technically with terrific vision. His statistics on the ball are impressive, even slightly better than Tagliafico's.
In the Europa League, Martínez had a passing accuracy of no less than 93%, compared to 83% of his compatriot. Remarkably, Martínez, who played one more game in the Europa League than Tagliafico, made more than twice as many passes as Tagliafico. The man from Entre Rios made 566 passes compared to the left-back’s 264.
Looking at the direction of the passes, both Tagliafico and Martínez play the ball forward relatively often. Across all four competitions, Martínez played an average of more than 58% of the passes in a forward direction. For Tagliafico, that number stands at 53%.
Ajax is characterized by their attacking style of play and scored 132 goals in the 2020/2021 in all competitions. This style is based on the ability of the whole team to be involved in the play, as is evident from the South American duo’s passing statistics.
In terms of goal involvements, the Argentines are identical. Both were directly involved in four goals. Tagliafico scored once, in the away game against PEC Zwolle, and provided three assists. Martínez, on the other hand, assisted only once, but put the ball in the net three times. He scored one of those goals in the final game of the season, against Vitesse.
In the Netherlands, these offensive contributions are highly valued. Defenders are also expected to contribute in attack. But Martínez and Tagliafico's grinta - which cannot always be summed up in numbers - turned out to be an eye-opener and one of the explanations for this season's success.