Nicolas Otamendi has received some warranted criticisms since his arrival, most notably his tendency to dive in rather recklessly often leaving Manchester City’s backline exposed and lacking in numbers.
Although he has been due criticisms in the past, it is only fair that he is commended when he has performed as remarkably as he has this season.
The Argentine was equipped with the tag ‘El General’ upon his arrival for his ability to command the defence and lead by example, unfortunately, this opinion was most commonly witnessed during his Valencia and Porto highlights and not his City performances, until now.
This season, we have seen an Otamendi more than deserving of this nickname and so much so Pep Guardiola has even lauded his ability by suitably naming him “Superman” in a recent press conference.
Now, Otamendi has always been competent with the ball at his feet but this season his accuracy and precision of high-risk passes has been there for all to see. His passing accuracy in the 17/18 season has been 92%, compare this to the 88% in 16/17 and 84% in 15/16, Guardiola’s influence when in possession of the ball is distinct. The boss hailed Otamendi’s improvement with some deserved plaudits.
“Right now he is reading the situations, where the spaces are to pass the ball, amazingly”
His mould into ‘El General’ has also arisen by stepping up to the plate to lead the defence in Vincent Kompany’s repeated absences through injuries. Last season, City fans alike were of the common opinion that with our best three centre-halves available; John Stones, Kompany and Otamendi that the latter would be the one to sit out. However, the form of Stones and Otamendi when paired during the earlier stage of the season has changed views on the best pairing to adhere to Guardiola’s philosophy.
Guardiola’s influence has been unparalleled in terms of aiding his defensive performance. He has given Otamendi the insight for his positioning and awareness of positioning which he states “He’s reading it really, really well, so I’m happy for him”. This is visible through the deconstruction of his defensive actions, in 16/17 66.2% of his actions were interceptions (188), 28.5% were clearances (81) and 5.3% were blocks (16). Comparatively, in 17/18 64% of his actions were clearances (64), 30% were interceptions (30) and 6% were blocks (6). It is clear that an extra year of the Spaniard’s mastery allowed him to intercept and block more reflecting his improved ability to read the game rather than be forced into a situation to launch the ball upfield.
His ability to influence a game can be shown through his proficiency in front of goal, Otamendi has bagged five times already this season in just 25 appearances including crucial goals at Old Trafford, scoring the winner in the derby and a header to aid the comeback in Naples. Prior to this season, he had only scored twice in 92 appearances so he will have been working hard in training to get on the scoresheet more frequently, which has come to great effect in the game situation.
He has thoroughly deserved his tag of ‘El General’ with his fine form this season and his startling improvement at an age of 29 where most consider players to begin to regress. However, Otamendi has certainly progressed into a robust, yet now modern, ball-playing centre-back.