As the ball bounced towards the byline in the 25th minute of the F.A Cup encounter between Wigan and Manchester City, Marc Antoine Fortune probably saw Martin Demichelis close in on his heels. Which is why in all probability, Fortune flicked the ball and spun pretty unconventionally; Demichelis’ woeful lack of pace making it look like a Neymar-esque skill full of effortless elegance. By the time the Argentinean regained the will to sprint and prevent another of his trademark, generous mistakes, Fortune was already in the City box. The rest as they say is history. City fans everywhere groaned at yet another example of the Argentinean defying blatant footballing logic; memories of a similarly hopeless and unrequited lunge on Lionel Messi came flooding back to the Etihad faithful, shattered only by the ball nestling in the net from Jordi Gomez’s well-taken penalty.
Needless to say, Demichelis has faced nothing short of a torturous six months in Manchester. In the short while that he has plied his trade in the Premier League, the Argentinean defender has been maligned for multiple reasons; primarily attributed to eccentric decision making and pace that makes Sol Campbell look like Lightning McQueen. But everything said and (un)done, City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s mettle as an astute tactician cannot be refuted, indicating that there could be a satisfactory rationale for including him in the side.
Demichelis started his career at River Plate almost 14 years ago, under Pellegrini. In 2003 he signed for Bayern Munich, winning the title in his second season. In his seven and a half year stint with the German powerhouse, Demichelis finished with 11 titles, four of them Bundesliga triumphs. At the end of his stay, Demichelis was reunited with Pellegrini at Malaga, where both experienced two rollercoaster seasons. He scored on his debut against Athletic Bilbao, but his penchant for atrocity also showed as he was sent off twice in his first four months. However, Demichelis became a vital part of Malaga’s set up, helping them avoiding relegation. In his second season, he scored Malaga’s first ever Champions League goal against Greek side Panathanaikos, and helped them to the quarterfinals where they lost out narrowly to Borussia Dortmund, who scored twice in injury time for a 3-2 aggregate win. Demichelis then made a move to the Premier League, to be reunited yet again with Manuel Pellegrini.
Player- Manager bond aside, Demichelis’ numbers at Malaga were certainly interesting, undoubtedly two of his best seasons in terms of defensive performances. In 2011-2012, Demichelis played 35 matches for Malaga. He had an average of 3.4 successful tackles a game, and a career high 152 interceptions at 4.3 per game. In next season’s Champions League, Demichelis made a staggering 94 clearances in nine games, at an astounding 10.4 per match. The only blotch on Demichelis’ figures seemed to be that he had made five defensive errors, all of which had resulted in a goal, indicating that Demichelis’ errors always proved to be costly. But at 4.2 million GBP, for a full international with extensive experience in Europe’s top leagues, Demichelis seemed to be a bargain signing for Pellegrini and City.
But there were questions asked the moment the signing was made. At 33 years old, Demichelis wasn’t getting any younger or faster, which raised questions as to how he would deal with the tempo of the Premier League. Those fears materialized all too frequently, as his shortcomings proved fatal in certain fixtures for Manchester City. Taking recent incidents into consideration, three glaring mistakes in four matches highlighted everything wrong with Demichelis. An unwise lunge on one of the fastest players on Earth in the Nou Camp was followed by an almost lazy stroll while trying to cover Kompany’s failure to stop Fabio Borini in the League Cup final. To top things off, he gave away yet another needless penalty against Wigan, a game that City desperately wanted to win, to avenge the humiliation suffered in last year’s F.A Cup final.
It does seem that the cons of having Demichelis in the side far outweigh the pros. But one must also consider the current circumstances which City’s defense finds itself in. With injuries to Micah Richards and Matija Nastasic, the only other options at centre-back are Javi Garcia(who is a defensive mid by trade) and Joleon Lescott, each with ten starts to their name in the Premier League. Pellegrini has started Javi Garcia in three different positions, while Lescott has literally been frozen out of the side after some very average performances. This has left Pellegrini with no other option but to play Demichelis.
There are arguments defending the Argentinean, which state that Pellegrini prefers someone like Demichelis in the side, a defender who can play out from the back and is comfortable on the ball. This can be validated statistically; Demichelis has completed 795 passes in the Premier league in 15 appearances, which amounts to 230 more than Vincent Kompany has completed in 17 appearances. Demichelis’ intelligent reading of the game has also been consistent; he has made 33 interceptions in 15 games, compared to 31 made by Kompany in 17 matches and 29 made by John Terry in 27 matches. Not to suggest that he’s superior to either, but the numbers mean something, surely.
Other than that, Demichelis’ other attributes do show a clear decline. In his time at City, his average of 1.7 successful tackles a game has been the lowest he has achieved in his entire career. He has also been dribbled past 19 times, more than any other centre-back in City’s ranks, indicating a clear lack of speed to keep up with the intensity of the Premier League. This weakness in particular was highlighted in the 1-0 loss to Chelsea, where Demichelis was employed in a central defensive midfield position. Over 90 minutes, Demichelis made only five successful tackles out of 15 attempted. Eden Hazard exploited the weakness to the fullest, successfully executing 11 take ons in the match, 10 of them from central positions.
Everything taken into consideration, whether Demichelis is worth the risk is for Pellegrini to decide. But with Nastasic still to return from injury, Manchester City can hope for a younger, fitter replacement. Until then, Demichelis’ defensive performances will be the subject of extremely intense scrutiny, especially as the title race becomes more intense by the passing week.