On the basis of Chelsea’s sorry defeat to Manchester City, it was evident which club was in greater need of defensive reinforcements. City strolled to their second 3-0 win in the opening week of the season while Chelsea offered feeble resistance and left Eastlands under another cloud in the form of John Terry’s substitution in favour of Kurt Zouma at half-time.
Chelsea have managed to bring in Baba Rahman, the highly-rated left back from FC Augsburg, but find themselves frustrated in their pursuit of John Stones, with Everton stoic in the face of a £30 million bid. Manchester City meanwhile have pulled off exemplary business in the form of Nicolas Otamendi from Valencia, nipping in ahead of city rivals United to prise the centre-half away from Valencia.
United appeared unwilling to come up with the £32 million needed to lure the Argentine away from the Mestalla but City have and for that they get themselves a 27 year old who was named in last season’s La Liga team of the year as Valencia qualified for the Champions League with the best defensive record outside of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Otamendi missed just three games as Valencia finished fourth and his series of commanding performances have rewarded Los Che with not only a passage back into Europe’s elite competition having been absent for 2 years, but a £20 million profit after only having him for a single year.
Otamendi’s career path is odd in the way he was immediately loaned to Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro after signing for Valencia in January 2014. The defender was brought to Europe from Argentinean club Velez Sarsfield for €4 million by Andre-Villas Boas and after winning 8 trophies in four seasons with the Portuguese club, Valencia paid €12 million to beat off competition from Chelsea, Barcelona and AC Milan.
Valencia had already filled their quota of foreign players for the season so he was sent to Brazil but his form for Mineiro wasn’t enough to survive the cut from Alejandro Sabella’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. Otamendi’s response has been perfect however, growing into one of the most coveted centre-halves in Europe as well as being reinstalled as a constant fixture in Argentina’s squad under Gerardo “Tata” Martino. As La Albiceleste finished runner-up in this summer’s Copa America, Otamendi was named in the team of the tournament.
Improvement and progression
At Porto Otamendi was often considered too rash as his aggressiveness left him prone to goal-costing errors, but at Valencia the Argentine has forged a reputation for being a composed presence who is extremely impressive at playing the ball out of the back. He misplaced just 308 of his 1560 attempted passes last season, a figure that placed him 24th in the La Liga charts for passing accuracy, ahead of the likes of James Rodriguez and Neymar.
Though it is in the battle for the ball where he excels as a defender, he won more duels (268) than any other defender in the Spanish top flight last season and made the most clearances with 258. He was fourth in terms of interceptions (111) and sixth in tackles won with 74, and for a defender who stands in excess of 6ft and boasts a powerful physique owing to his love of boxing and gym when growing up, it is no surprise to see him dominant in the air. No other defender in La Liga won more aerial challenges than his 124 last season.
His threat in the air also makes Otamendi a danger in both boxes with five of his six goals for Valencia last season coming from headers, including vital strikes in matches with Atletico Madrid, Celta Vigo and Almeria on the final day, scoring to bring Los Che level as they secured a Champions League spot with a 2-3 win. It was the Argentine centre-half who powered home the goal that subjected Real Madrid to their first defeat in 22 games back in January.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who will be boosted by Otamendi’s ability to also play at right-back like in Diego Maradona’s World Cup team of 2010, will count any goals from his new centre-half as a bonus, but the Chilean will see priority in shoring up a defence that conceded more goals than the rest of last season’s top four with 38.
Mangala to stay
In contrast to rumours that involved the French defender heading to Spain as a makeweight in the deal, Pellegrini has managed to keep hold of Eliaquim Mangala who, after experiencing a difficult time adjusting to Premier League life, has shown signs in the first two games of this campaign of what convinced City to splash £42.5 million on him last summer.
The fee spent on Otamendi will mean he is likely to go straight in alongside Vincent Kompany who has started the new campaign looking more like the rock-solid force that was behind City’s drive to two league titles in the past three years. The Argentine will provide the antidote to any reservations over the inexperience of Mangala or the aging of Martin Demichelis, who will now both form ample cover in a back-line that will compete on four fronts.
The form of 20 year old Jason Denayer in pre-season and the signing of his new long-term contract led to hope that he may have been one of the four centre-halves in Pellegrini’s squad, though the arrival of Otamendi may mean the Belgian will have to go out on another loan spell similar to the one he had at Celtic last term.
Successful summer window
Kevin De Bruyne may still follow him through the arrivals door, but if Otamendi is to round off a summer’s business that has also included Raheem Sterling for £49 million and Fabian Delph for £8 million, it will have been a successful off-season for Pellegrini who has refreshed his squad well in the areas that required it.
Having signed a top-level centre-half who will bolster a defence that was too porous last term, City have already stolen a march on rivals Chelsea off the pitch as well as on it.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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