Having both Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi in your team’s back-line sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?
The two centre-backs are among the most universally derided defenders in the Premier League these days, with perhaps only Phil Jones earning lower points for overall tomfoolery.
But what if we told you that Mustafi and Otamendi once formed a enviable, reliable and, dare we say it, exciting pairing in La Liga?
We have to go back to the 2014/15 season in Spain to set the scene.
Barcelona secured the league title that year over Real Madrid by just two measly points, mostly thanks to the awesome power of their famed ‘MSN’ strike-force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Madrid were no slouches in attack either of course; lead by the 48 goals (!) of Cristiano Ronaldo.
But while these two behemoths of the footballing world fought it out at the very top of the Spanish table, there was a certain intrigue on who would finish in the runners-up spots.
The best of the rest consisted of the reigning champions Atletico Madrid, Unai Emery’s stylish Europa League-winning Sevilla, and Valencia; who were managed by current-Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo.
Goals were very much the ticket to the top that season, with each of the aforementioned sides naturally boasting some of the world’s most potent goal-scorers at the time.
Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Suarez were supported by the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema, Carlos Bacca at Sevilla and even the evergreen Athletic Bilbao hero Aritz Aduriz – all scoring at least 15 goals that term.
The problem for Valencia was that they simply could not compete offensively.
Sure, they had Paco Alcacer in attack who finished as their top scorer with 14 goals in all competitions, along with the towering Alvaro Negredo and backed-up by their midfield general Dani Parejo – but they needed to find strength in other areas of the field to keep up.
So instead of out-gunning their opponents, Valencia concentrated on being defensively sound.
The Mestalla became a fortress, with Los Ches conceding just 32 goals in the league that season – the third lowest in La Liga – and they lost just five league games all season.
What’s more, shot-stopper Diego Alves boasted the second-best goalkeeping record in the division, only bested by Claudio Bravo of Barcelona.
As curious as that is, it was Valencia’s highly organised back-line that received the most plaudits; especially their star defender Otamendi, who finished up in La Liga’s Team of the Season ahead of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos.
The Argentinian was particularly praised for his leadership and decision-making at the back – something that often seems to escape him these days at Man City – but also for his ability in the air, which helped him net six times that season.
Otamendi’s defensive partner was the 22-year-old Mustafi, who was one of Europe’s most acclaimed up-and-comers.
While he wasn’t among the tallest centre-backs in Spain’s top-flight, he was lauded for his pace and ability on the ball, along with his passionate last-ditch style of defending; which also saw him rack up a hefty 19 yellow cards in just one season.
Their defensive-pairing was so widely successful that they each began to attract suitors from abroad and their partnership lasted for just a single season, with City splashing out on Otamendi to bolster their own defence; making him one of their marquee signings ahead of the 2015/16 campaign.
Mustafi joined him in the Premier League just a year later when he moved to Arsenal for a reported £35million; a price tag that made him one of the most expensive defenders in history at the time and still puts him inside the top 20.
It’s perhaps bizarre to imagine that the duo were once so highly rated, such is their low-regard in England.
Otamendi, for example, has made a number of high-profile blunders over the last 12 months and, coupled with Aymeric Laporte’s long-term injury, City’s title fight has suffered as a result.
Things got so bad back in October that manager Pep Guardiola even opted for the pairing of midfielders Rodri and Fernandinho at the back.
Otamendi drew further criticism more recently in February for his baffling decision-making that lead to Spurs’ second goal in their 2-0 win over City ahead of the winter break.
As has been customary in recent years, Mustafi and Otamendi will each be at the very top of their respective club’s lists of players they’re desperate off-load – which is a far cry from the promise and possibility that they represented not so long ago.
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