Ernesto Valverde has hailed Lautaro Martinez ahead of Barcelona’s trip to San Siro to face Inter Milan in the Champions League.
Barcelona have reportedly identified Martinez as a transfer target ahead of the January transfer window, having been impressed by his recent performances in Serie A – as per Goal.
The 22-year-old has hit eight goals in 15 domestic appearances, forming a fearsome partnership upfront with former Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku.
Martinez has been touted as a potential long-term replacement for Luis Suarez at Camp Nou, with the Uruguayan now approaching the latter stages of his career at 32.
Barca are due to travel to Italy for a final Group F fixture against Inter on Tuesday night, with their spot in the Champions League knockout stages already assured.
Martinez will likely retain his place in Antonio Conte’s starting XI against the Spanish champions, with rumours over his future likely to intensify if he produces another eye-catching display.
As per Goal, when asked to comment on the Argentine striker’s talent, Valverde told a pre-match press conference: “He is a great player and he’s having a great season. He is quick and strong.
“He scored a great goal in the first game at the Camp Nou. I know he is comfortable with [Romelu] Lukaku, they’ve found the right mechanism to help Inter.
“As for Lautaro being similar to Luis Suarez, they are a little different but both are born goalscorers.
“But Inter have so many good players, Lautaro, Lukaku, [Milan] Skriniar.”
Valverde’s praise will surely give Martinez an extra confidence boost heading into a crucial fixture for Inter, which they must win to progress to last 16 of the competition.
The Barca head coach, meanwhile, has the opportunity to experiment with his squad and give a few key performers a well-earned rest, including Lionel Messi.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner was not included in Valverde’s latest matchday squad, with one eye on a trip to Real Sociedad in La Liga on Saturday.
“Messi is getting rest. Nothing more,” Valverde said – as per Goal. “We come from important games and we have important games and I have decided that some players do not come.
“Last year we played a great game here. Without Messi, by the way.”