Analysing Nicolas Otamendi's incredible defensive display in the Manchester derby
Manchester City were superb in possession and were in control for most of the match at Old Trafford. Despite the suspension of Sergio Aguero, Pep Guardiola’s men managed to give their best performance of the season and are now seen as the favourites for the league title. Their attackers were excellent, but their defence were equally as good and if it wasn’t for a mistake from Claudio Bravo, they could have kept a clean sheet for the first time in the league this season.
Nicolas Otamendi was a doubt ahead of the Manchester derby as he arrived back late from international duty with Argentina. He had a disappointing debut season in England, but he has now adjusted the physicality of the division and is one of the first names on the team-sheet under Pep Guardiola. The Argentine is comfortable on the ball and has confidence to launch attacks from deep, making him perfect for the system employed by the new manager. He has struck up a great understanding with summer signing John Stones and it will be difficult for Vincent Kompany to regain his place in defence.
The former Valencia centre back needed stitches on his eyebrow after the match, which showed how he was willing to put his body on the line in order to get the three points for his team. In the final third, he was a threat from set pieces and almost scored a goal to put the victory beyond doubt, but he was prevented by a great save from David de Gea. He had a quiet first half as his side dominated the play, but he was unbeatable after the break and played a vital part in a memorable derby day victory.
His defensive contribution was vital, as he won five tackles and made six interceptions, halting several Manchester United attacks. Before moving to City, the 28-year-old was known as an excellent reader of the game and that showed on Saturday. He was in the right place at the right time on countless occasions, as shown by his total of eight clearances throughout the match. At Old Trafford, he was coming up against one of the best attacks in the league and he looked calm throughout. Last season, he rarely looked confident and made some costly errors, but he is reformed under Guardiola and supporters will be hoping that he can perform at this level consistently.
Although he isn’t the tallest of defenders, Otamendi didn’t shirk an aerial battle on Saturday, which is how he suffered the cut above his eye. He won four aerial duels and it emphasised how he has developed over the past 12 months. During his first few months in England, he struggled aerially and was targeted by opposition managers as a result. Central defenders coming into the Premier League from abroad need to be given time to get used to the physicality before being written off and the Argentine is the perfect example of that.
His defensive display was great to watch and he is beginning to emerge as one of the best centre backs in the league. However, his contribution with the ball will have been just as important to his manager, who likes to have two ball-playing centre backs at the heart of the defence. He stepped out of the back four and looked to play forward passes at every opportunity. His movement off the ball was good, always offering his teammates an option for a pass, which will have impressed Guardiola. Otamendi rarely gave the ball away and his pass accuracy of 91% capped off a superhuman performance.
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