Nicolás Otamendi – Player Review

Nicolás Otamendi – Player Review
Apr 2, 2016

Featured Manchester City

Moving to a completely new league and country is never easy for any player, especially as a centre-back. The intensity of the play and hostile atmospheres in the Premier League add to the difficulty of adapting. But has Nicolás Otamendi been an exception to that stereotype?

He arrived with a reputation. A reputation that many of the world’s best clubs were not ignoring. He was undoubtedly the very best central defender that La Liga had to offer from the 2014/2015 season. Commanding, dominant in the air as well as being someone that attackers simply hated to face due to this fierce tackling style. Over in Spain last season, the Argentine managed to achieve a rate of 3.5 successful aerial battles per game! Considering he made 35 appearances for Valencia, that is an astonishing rate to keep up over the length of the season. And it isn’t just his defensive capabilities that made Manchester City claim the Argentine’s signature. He also held the title of La Liga’s top scoring defender from the 2014/2015 season with 6 goals. So not only was Otamendi signed for his defensive capabilities, but also for his threat at set pieces, something City had clearly been lacking from the 2014/15 season.

Despite the astounding records he brought with him to City, doubts over his ability to perform in the Premier League, and at Manchester City in general, are ongoing. He has definitely shown signs of poor decision making in a few games (the Capital One Cup Semi-Final second leg for example). But isn’t a tough tackling defender ideal for City, especially when the likes of Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala aren’t exactly the fiercest of defenders. At times, he’s proved to be the ideal partner for injury prone Vincent Kompany, but with the Belgian inconsistent in terms of playing time, Otamendi has failed to settle in. In most games that ‘El General’ has featured in without Kompany, he has virtually been made to ‘hold the hand’ of his defensive partner. His true ability hasn’t been showcased that often due to the fact that he has never had a consistent defensive partner alongside him. In addition, better defensive coaching is crucial for the development of Otamendi in the Premier League. He must be made more aware of when the right time to perform a sliding tackle is, as well as when to charge out of the back four in order to close down an opponent.

The Argentine’s greatest performance in a City shirt to date came in none other than the Manchester Derby. A global event being televised to millions of people worldwide, and the occasion didn’t bother him, despite his poor performances leading up to the Old Trafford date. His partner was Vincent Kompany and so this combination in defence was the dream for such a match. Throughout the entire game, he didn’t look as if he had recently joined the side and kept French wonderkid Anthony Martial relatively quiet. His fierce tackling style paired with Vincent Kompany’s leadership and all round dominance was simply unbeatable from the Manchester United perspective. ‘El General’ did have one moment in the game that stood out for many in particular – the moment he executed one of his brutal tackles on Juan Mata with absolute perfection.

Despite his great goal scoring record over in La Liga, Otamendi has only managed to grab the one goal for City in the 2-1 home win against Norwich. A powerful header from almost the edge of the penalty area gave John Ruddy no chance and for the first time this season, the Etihad crowd witnessed the ‘salute’ celebration. However, following last season’s dreadful run of failing corner routines, the Argentine has added a different threat on set pieces. His desire to attack the ball is something that City were desperately needing. Otamendi also seems to have an outstanding jump height on him, something that many wouldn’t usually associate with someone of his build. This consequently allows him to beat most defenders in aerial battles and he has been very unfortunate to not have bagged more than just the one goal in a Manchester City shirt. 

However, defensive howlers against West Ham away in the Premier League seem to stand out more than his quality performances. I personally believe this is down to the fact that our attack is unable to obtain criticism due to past performances and the high quality reputation that they hold. In contrast, the defence of any City team over the past three to four years has never been solid and has always had flaws at some point of the season. As a result, it is the prime aspect of the team that is constantly being viewed and analysed every game and doesn’t release any pressure off a defensive pairing. One of the other main criticisms being pointed out by analysts is that the Argentine can sometimes dive into tackles far too early or even push out of the defensive line leaving massive gaps in behind. Personally, I feel this is something that he must do in order to aim to protect his ‘weaker’ defensive partners such as Demichelis or Eliaquim Mangala. Every move made by a Manchester City defender is constantly being watched and critically analysed after every single game. It would only take a string of solid performances from a defensive pairing featuring Otamendi, to regain that praise from the media and fans and possibly take some pressure off the Argentine.

To conclude, it has been a mixed season for Nicolás Otamendi in terms of performances. However, it can be said that with a consistent and quality centre-back partnering him, he can live up to his full potential. This may have to come in the form of a summer arrival during the Pep Guardiola era, a prevention of regular Vincent Kompany injuries or even bringing Belgian prospect Jason Denayer back into the first team following his loan at Galatasaray.
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