Nicolas Otamendi Transfer Will Decide Manchester Derby

Consistent performer: Otamendi. (via Wikimedia Commons).
Consistent performer: Otamendi. (via Wikimedia Commons). /

Star centre back Nicolas Otamendi was the subject of an intense transfer struggle between rivals Manchester United and Manchester City this summer. The Argentine ultimately cast his lot with City and that August decision might just be the difference in Sunday’s Manchester Derby.

Lots of the talk around Sunday’s match will focus on whether or not City can muster an attack without their star attacker Sergio Aguero. Surely, if he were fit then City would be strong favorites but in his absence, the game has become more of a toss-up. I think this focuses on the right area of the pitch, but the wrong color jersey. Manchester United’s makeshift back line will be the weak point that turns the game in City’s favor.

United has been forced to trot out quite a few back fours already this season due to injury and Sunday will not be much different. They are likely to start Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian at the back with a protective midfield shield of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. This isn’t a bad defense per se, but they won’t be facing a run of the mill City attack either.

More from Playing for 90

The Citizens will feature Wilfried Bony up top, supported by Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and presumably Jesus Navas (I’m less certain of Navas’ inclusion than the others). Yes, they miss Aguero dearly, but there’s still quite a bit of firepower present.

Bony, in particular, will prove tricky for United’s centre backs Smalling and Jones. Neither of the United pairing is particularly adept at handling physical strikers like former Swansea front man. In a cruel twist of fate, the man best equipped to deal with such a physical presence will be wearing blue instead of red on Sunday.

Nicolas Otamendi was the subject of a transfer battle between the two sides that caused some hard feelings over the summer. Those hard feelings should only grow as Otamendi not only bolsters City with his presence on Sunday, but also strikes United by his absence on their side.

It’s not as if Bony is a world-class striker, he just presents a physical challenge for United’s defense. It’s easy to see Bony enjoying a great deal of success holding the ball up as Sterling and De Bruyne run off of him to torture David De Gea. The inclusion of Schneiderlin should help, but it won’t be enough. United is still going to find themselves a world-class centre back short of being able to compete. They’re short Nicolas Otamendi.

For all of the fanfare surrounding the arrival of Anthony Martial at United, his transfer won’t be the difference in the giant derby. Instead, it will come down to United’s inability to field a centre back pairing capable of standing up to City’s pressure. If they’d succeeded in capturing Otamendi perhaps he would have been enough. Instead he’ll be lined up on the other side as the United faithful wonder what might have been if he’d signed on their dotted line.