Well at least this was the trope until their untrammeled quest for glory began to turn into a grind during the last few weeks.
Away from the startlingly improved Raheem Sterling, inch-perfect Kevin De Bruyne and increasingly decisive David Silva, centre-back Nicolas Otamendi is emerging as a vital component to the Blues’ winning machine.
This will be the case once again at Old Trafford on Sunday, a ground full of fond memories for him after an exceptional display against Sweden warrior Zlatan Ibrahimovic in last September’s victorious derby for the men in sky blue.
The Argentina international’s grit has helped knit the side together during the ongoing slog of three vital wins by one-goal margins. Away from the obvious leveller to spark December 3’s eventual 2-1 win against West Ham United, he has managed a revolving door of partners to keep City well in control of the title hunt.
This has all been done while performing in the shadows, an unsung hero playing chorus for partner John Stones or the plethora of gifted attackers in front of him.
But from the moment the England man went down with a hamstring injury at Leicester last month, an area of weakness opened up for the runaway leaders.
Neither the ailing Vincent Kompany or erratic Eliaquim Mangala are currently up to the job of manning the barricades for title pretenders.
— Nicolas Otamendi (@Notamendi30) December 3, 2017
A succession of injuries and increasing age have robbed the former of his ability to attack the ball like few other centre-backs in the history of the Premier League. Mangala could never boast such talent, his recruitment at the unverified cost of £42 million (Dh206.5m) by Football Leaks a stain on director of football Txiki Begiristain’s judgement.
Such erratic players need a guiding hand. This is where the rehabilitated Otamendi has stood up.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, after a £28.5m (Dh140.1m) move from Valencia in August 2015, and during Guardiola’s mixed debut campaign in 2016/17, similar disparaging accusations could have been directed at the 29-year-old.
A transformation has occurred during the summer.
Only 10 goals have been conceded in his 14 Premier League appearance’s this term, at an average of 0.7 per game. Last season, 28 were let in during 30 fixtures at an average of 1.1 per match.
In total, City have let just 10 goals in during their 15 matches. At the same stage in 2016/17, this figure was nearly double that at 19.
Otamendi is making less tackles per game, dropping from 2.3 to 1.9. But a rapid improvement has been witnessed in a key facet of any centre-back’s output under Guardiola.
From averaging 64.9 passes per game at 88.2 per cent accuracy, he’s now moved up to 89.7 passes per game at 91.2 per cent accuracy. This compares favourably to Stones, a figure hailed as an aesthete in defence, who has 70.4 average passes per game at 96.2 per cent accuracy.
Otamendi also already has three goals in his 14 top-flight run-outs. Only one was recorded in the previous campaign.
He has shown in recent weeks he can both fulfil the artisan element of Guardiola’s requirements, while also being able to dig in and defend doggedly to secure invaluable three-point hauls.
Do this again in the other half of Manchester and a chorus of plaudits should hail the unsung hero.
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