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Otamendi improvement key to 2017-18 success

THE GENERAL: Nicolas Otamendi enjoyed a fine 2017-18 season

THE GENERAL: Nicolas Otamendi enjoyed a fine 2017-18 season

After Manchester City defeated Newcastle 1-0 in December, a result that saw us clock up a Premier League record 18th-straight win and establish a 15-point lead at the top of the table, Pep Guardiola singled out Nicolas Otamendi for praise.

"Everybody has spoken about a lot of players like Raheem [Sterling], Kevin [De Bruyne], Sergio [Aguero], they deserve it,” he said. “But if I can point some attention to a player who deserves the respect it is Nico.

"He has been amazing - he is one of the hugest competitors I have ever seen in my life.

"I cannot imagine the situation we are in at the moment in terms of the table without him. It would have been impossible."

Otamendi’s form last season was outstanding. He played 46 times in all competitions as City won the Premier League and Carabao Cup and he was a consistent performer.

His defensive capabilities – that gritty, body-on-the-line defending he specialises in – gave City a solid platform on which our creative attacking players could flourish. He was our best-performing centre-back, of that there can be little doubt.

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He plays through injuries, has improved in the air and makes tackles, blocks and interceptions that other players won’t, with his bravery setting him apart. 

But it was perhaps his passing quality that was most impressive, and particularly pleasing for Guardiola, whose work on the training ground has clearly had a seismic effect on the Argentine. Otamendi, not a natural ball-playing centre-half, added a new dimension to his game last season, proving adept at bringing the ball out of defence and starting attacks with passes into space.

It was a remarkable transformation. The player we saw the previous season rarely stepped into midfield and played on the front foot, playing the ball between the lines to begin attacking moves. Now he does it regularly.

Take the goal De Bruyne scored at Chelsea in September. It was a fine finish and the Belgian rightly took the plaudits for a moment of inspired artistry – but Otamendi’s ball, whipped into De Bruyne’s feet from deep, was the moment that sparked it all. It's a new facet to his game and it's very effective. 

Much of Guardiola’s philosophy is built around the principle of dominating possession. When we have the ball, the opposition can’t hurt us, but we can hurt them. He's a coach who wants to see his side have the lion's share of possession, and City had more of the ball than our opponents in every Premier League game this season. Otamendi was key to that.

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He became the first player in Premier League history to attempt more than 3,000 passes this season (his 3,074 ended up being the second highest behind Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka who managed 3,116) – and his success rate stood at a remarkable 92 per cent when the season drew to a close. His passing at the back helps set the tone for the rest of the team and contributed to City's positive, effective build-up play. 

He also weighed in with five goals, a not insignificant number that shows he is very much a threat in the opposition box from set pieces. He isn't the tallest, but his movement and desire to attack the ball from corners means he has had success in front of goal. 

Otamendi's bravery and defensive contribution has rarely been questioned, and he's now added more expansive facets to his game. He deserves great credit for his performances in 2017-18. He was outstanding

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