In a squad that consists of some of the most skilful players in the world, it has in fact been the hard-working Pablo Zabaleta who has really hit the ground running this season and has arguably been the Champions’ best player.
With many players in City’s ranks arriving for massive transfer fees, Zabaleta is considered to be a bargain at the cheap price of £6.45 Million, which was believed to be his buy-out clause during his stint with La Liga outfit Espanyol. ‘Zaba’ Arrived towards the end of the summer transfer window of 2008 and was very much aware of the exciting challenge ahead. And from the moment he stepped on to the hallowed turf of the Etihad, Pablo Zabaleta became a firm fans favourite with the blues faithful. We all love to see that little bit of magic and class, but there is nothing better than a player whose effort cannot be faulted and Zabaleta fits into the category without question. He really does give 100% week-in week-out and that is why City fans regard him so highly.
But in modern-day football, sometimes effort does not win you games of football and quality is what is required. However, aside from all his passion, grit and bull-dog approach, Zabaleta is a brilliant footballer. He reads the game superbly and it takes the very best of wingers to beat him; on his day he is easily one of the best right-backs in the Premier League, perhaps even the best. Defensively he is completely sound and getting forward from right-back is something he does fantastically as well, supporting team-mates and ultimately offering everything you want from an attacking full-back. For many, full-backs who can’t defend is frustrating to see, but it is not the case with Zabaleta as he combines his excellent attacking abilities with the capability of defending magnificently whilst the opposition is in possession of the ball.
As aforementioned above, Zabaleta is exceptional at getting forward and he has created 11 chances this season for the blues; which is pretty respectable considering he is predominately a right-back by trade. He has had an average shot accuracy of 67%, which shows he hasn’t got the most accurate of shots, though he has managed to chip in with a couple of goals against Stoke and Man United respectively. The 27-year-old is also incredibly comfortable on the ball; with him having an average pass accuracy of 87%. It is not necessarily vital for a full-back to be a perfect passer of the ball, but all top teams require players able to find a pass with ease and one’s who do not hesitate nor panic when on the ball; Zabaleta’s pass accuracy is evidence that he is indeed an accomplished passer of the ball. Another thing noticeable from Zabaleta’s play is that he will never give up in a tackle and is fully committed; this can be seen on a stat which shows he has won 58% of his average duels; making him a defender that Winger’s aren’t too confident playing against him.
Even though, the blues have come under scrutiny for leaking goals at the back, in contrast to last-season when they were solid, City have actually only conceded 19 goals this season and Zabaleta has easily played a part in that. He is such a committed footballer with a never-say-die attitude; something that all football fans dream about their player to have. Passion and desire are the two most suited words to describe Pablo Zabaleta. It’s clear that the Argentinean has been consistent this season as well, each game performing to his maximum level. There have been hardly any defensive lapses and errors from City’s number 1 right-back; this can be seen in a statistic which shows he has made only one defensive error this season; that is incredible.
During his time at City, the former Espanyol man has been used in a number of roles for the blues, including midfield on a few occasions. Furthermore, we have also seen him deputise at left-back; which he is ever so reliable in doing so, despite his right-foot being his primary and more preferred one. However right-back is where we see him at his very best, up and down that right touchline frightening both defenders and wingers. We all love a crunching tackle and with Zabaleta, we are provided with a sufficient amount of Many City fans have labelled him ‘Zabman’ for his efforts on the pitch; which has seen him have his fair share of cuts, bruises and plenty of bandages. Zabaleta and bandages make a perfect match, he always seems to be in the wars, whether it be blood streaming for his head or a broken nose, perhaps the physio has a bandage ready for each game, just incase Zabaleta needs a white bandage strapping round his head.
In his latest game for City, Zabaleta had praises sung by many writers, pundits and fans for producing one of his usual displays. He made 2/2 successful tackles and was winning his individual battle with Lukas Podolski, until the German was substituted. He made 2 interceptions in the game and his decision-making was fantastic; as it is in the majority of games. Finally his passing was also quite good, completing 52 out of the 62 he attempted. It was a classic Zabaleta performance.
It is the attacking players that tend to earn more credit than those behind them, nevertheless Zabaleta is appreciated just as much as the gifted players by all City fan’s for his work rate, commitment, attitude and tenacity. He was well and truly shone this season and made the right-back position his own, even with Maicon and Richards returning from injury, you can’t see anybody winning that spot back from the City ace; he has firmly grasped it with both hands and will not let go. ‘Zaba’ played an important role in last-season’s title win with a string of excellent displays and the opening goal on the famous game against QPR, it’s almost certain that he will do that once more and maybe he will be rewarded come the end of the season for being a stand-out performer. What is certain though is that he will remain a firm favourite with the City fans.
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All stats on Zabaleta this season were taken from Squakwa
All stats on Zabaleta against Arsenal were taken from the Official Manchester City website