Nicolas Otamendi – Valencia’s Bearded Wonder Continues to Show Why He’s One of La Liga’s Finest Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi Valencia vs Madrid

Valencia’s agressive, bearded Argentine centre back, Nicolas Otamendi, continued his superb form this season by putting in yet another tremendous shift. This time, his unbelievable 33 defensive actions proved crucial in his side’s memorable 2-2 draw with Real Madrid.

That’s correct, 33 defensive actions, which consisted of a surreal 23 clearances, five interceptions, three won aerial duels and a vital two blocked shots.

Taking up his customary position on the left side of central defence, alongside his excellent partner Shkodran Mustafi, Otamendi shared the marking duties of the dangerous Madrid frontline very nicely with his German partner, while also covering intelligently for his left back, Jose Gaya.

With Javier Hernandez buzzing around predominantly central attacking areas, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale drifting infield, as is the norm, Otamendi and his defensive colleagues had to remain alert and aware of their marking assignments. And for the most part, they did.

The constant gesturing and communication undertaken by Otamendi undoubtedly helped his backline cohesively deal with a plethora of vital marking crossovers. They really did manage very well in dealing with the Madrid attackers’ regular positional interchanges, and as a consequence, were able to limit their opponents attacking effectiveness rather well. Obviously Mustafi and Gaya were the greatest beneficiaries of Otamendi’s leadership, with them being closest to him on the pitch.

Especially in situations when Los Che were defending deep, Javi Fuego (Valencia’s defensive midfielder) would drop back and provide support to Mustafi and Otamendi to form what was essentially a back five. This worked well, allowing one of the pair to step up on whoever they were marking at the time and apply pressure with peace of mind, knowing Fuego was covering deep.

In addition, the cover the 27-year-old provided Jose Gaya was vital too. In the instances when Bale would drop deep to receive possession, a clear tactic of Madrid’s was that, when this happened, Isco would push forward into the vacant space, as Gaya had to track the Welshman. In theory it works well, but not against Otamendi – he was wide awake to Isco’s movement and on many occasions stopped potentially dangerous moves from eventuating by getting across to intervene.

Getting back to those 23 clearances, it would appear on paper as though Madrid just bombarded Valencia throughout, but this wasn’t the case at all. Both sides had periods of ascendency. The reason Otamendi made so many interventions came down to his excellent positioning. He persistently positioned himself goal-side of his opponents, thus putting himself in the ideal areas to snuff out any danger. His desire to get to the contest first, coupled with his unwavering attitude to do whatever it takes for the team’s good, was another catalyst for his influential showing.

Nuno’s well regimented outfit kept their shape beautifully for the majority of the contest. Upon analysing their defensive shape, it was apparent just how perfectly positioned their back four remained throughout. While this is certainly a testament to Nuno’s excellent work in training, the fact that their back four has been pretty settled for large parts of the season has also helped hugely. The obvious acclimatisation required to knit together this superb defensive unit has been stunningly quick, and a process that’s been facilitated beautifully by the players fully buying into Nuno and Ian Cathro’s exciting project.

It’s been quite remarkable that Valencia, despite having two new singings at the heart of their defence, have the second best defensive record in the league, in a season where the Mustafi-Otamendi combination has been right up there with the best pairings in Europe.

The only missteps in an overwhelmingly outstanding showing were that Otamendi possibly could’ve done more to prevent Pepe’s goal, and that he could’ve easily been sent off for an horrific, two-footed tackle on Isco. Otherwise, he was ostensibly flawless.

By the numbers this season, Otamendi’s been nothing short of spectacular. His five man of the match awards, as per Whoscored, see him rank equal 4th in La Liga alongside Antoine Griezmann, Denis Cheryshev, Lucas Vazquez, Xabier Etxeita and Sergio Garcia. The only men ahead of him in this regard are of course Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while Nolito occupies third.

For defenders with over 20 appearances, he remarkably boasts the highest average rating (7.52). This sees him rank higher than players such as Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Diego Godin, who are generally considered the finest in the division.

A testament to his durability, despite his dogged, rough and tumble nature, is illustrated by the fact he’s second in most minutes played by defenders on 2,918, not far behind Almeria’s Angel Trujillo, who’s on 3,060.

In terms of interceptions and tackles per game, he averages a solid 3.9 and 2.9 respectively, while his awesome 7.2 clearances per game ranks him second in the Primera Division in this category (behind Ion Ansotegi on 7.4).

Otamendi ValenciaOtamendi’s also scored four goals this season.

In hindsight, it’s been a campaign many wouldn’t have predicted, especially with his career at the highest level once looking on the rocks, after he was on the outer at Porto last season. Moreover, he also spent a few months on loan at Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, as he was signed in February of last year by Valencia, which therefore meant he couldn’t play for them until this season.

The £12 million Los Che paid for him, although seemingly a touch excessive at the time, has most definitely been money well spent, for Otamendi has quite possibly been La Liga’s premier defender this season.