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Expectations For 14/15: Pablo Zabaleta

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A workhorse who has gradually improved his game is now one of Man City's most vital players.

Matthias Hangst

Signed for £6.5m all the way back in the summer of 2008, Pablo Zabaleta has progressed from back-up right back and depth utility player to become one of Man City's most consistent performers. Hard work, sound positional sense, hard in the tackle and much improved attacking instincts are just a few of the features that Zabaleta offers this Man City team.

Zabaleta will turn 30 this season and it is probably unwise to continue playing the Argentine in every fixture without risking burnout or injury. Man City recognized this and signed Bacary Sagna to act as competition and occasional relief for Zabaleta.

Questions

Zabaleta is still our #1 right back?

Yeah, of course. Why would that be in doubt?

Sagna signing?

Sagna was surely signed as cover for Zabaleta and in order to give our #1 right back rest in certain league and cup games.

Why was it important that we brought in cover at the right back position?

Zabaleta played the most minutes of any Man City player last term and did so in such a physically demanding position on the field. Man City would have loved Micah Richards to be the guy who played some minutes when Zabaleta was unavailable but Micah was either unfit or unable to adequately fill in when needed.

Just how often did Zabaleta play last term?

I only look at league minutes (strongest team, not 2nd XI's etc) and the numbers are terrifying: 90% of league minutes last term.

Zaba top% chart

Huh, but if we look at previous seasons Zabaleta didn't play nearly as much?

No, he was a utility player early in his Man City career and he shared the right back spot with Micah Richards.

When did Zabaleta become the #1 right back?

If my memory is correct it was at the end of the 11/12 season when Zabaleta played the last 6 games and nailed down the right back spot as his own.

zaba top graph

12/13 saw Zabaleta play 77% of the available minutes but before that there was a definite trend that showed a decline in  percentage of minutes played. Zabaleta's career was one of a utility player who featured in midfield, right back, left back an occasional center back before finally becoming the man.

What makes Zabaleta such a good right back?

Strong, quick, good positional sense, offers good movement and passing in support of attacks and is just about everywhere.

This chart, which is adjusted for possession, tells us Zabaleta tackles a lot, intercepts a lot, can pass the ball well, creates a shot p/90 for his team-mates, doesn't get dribbled past much. there's a lot to like.

What can't he do?

Hold back time, play every game, continue to remain injury free forever.

This is where Sagna comes in right?

Yep, Zabaleta needs competition and rest in order to prevent burnout and dips in form. City did the smart thing, I just wish Sagna was 10 years younger. Pellegrini likes old defenders.

What kind of season can we expect from Zabaleta?

A strong season yet again. Greater understanding with Navas, A greater understanding of the attacking and defensive schemes that Pellegrini employs (all players should have this, not a criticism), more rest, more freshness and, probably, to play far fewer minutes than he did this season.

How many games will Zabaleta play in the the league?

Ah, man this is a tough question. A guess that will likely be completely inaccurate: 25.

Whoa.

Yeah, I do wonder if Zabaleta and Sagna may platoon in a similar way to how Clichy/Kolarov share time. I'd expect Zabaleta to be #1 for the CL games, Sagna to get cup games and throw in the odd injury to Zabaleta and 25 could sound about right.

Final thoughts?

He is a fine, fine player who we will one day have to replace. And that won't be an easy task.