There’s no question that Martin Demichelis has been scapegoated by both the media and his own fans since he came into the Manchester City first team. It’s been a relentless, vitriolic pursuit of a defender bought as a stopgap to see City through until the summer, when they can buy a long-term replacement comfortable in possession of the ball—a key element in Manuel Pellegrini’s vision of how he wants the Blues to play.
Demichelis brings many qualities to the side. He can read the game well, is exceptional in the air and is often seen marshalling his defence, which in a side bereft of vocal defenders is a crucial asset to have.
He suffers, of course, from a chronic lack of pace and mobility, something which has led him to make dreadful errors—his lunge on Lionel Messi in the first leg of City's last-16 Champions League tie with Barcelona arguably being the costliest. There was little between the two sides up until that point but Demichelis' recklessness turned the tie in Barca's favour. The likelihood of a City win seemed remote from that moment on, and so it proved.
And then against Wigan in the FA Cup, Demichelis allowed Marc-Antoine Fortune, a player deemed not good enough for West Brom, to turn him too easily before hacking the forward down as he entered the box. Wigan scored the penalty, which set them on their way to victory and a semi-final with Arsenal at Wembley.
Two disastrous pieces of defending were largely responsible for City exiting two cup competitions—one of which was eminently winnable—and further fanned the flames of criticism that have followed him since his City debut back in October.
The truth is that aside from some glaring mistakes, Demichelis has done a decent job for City. He hasn't been sparkling by any means, but his displays have been much better than the media narrative would have you believe.
Manuel Pellegrini recognised that City didn't have a centre-back to partner Vincent Kompany who was comfortable on the ball. Joleon Lescott, a fantastic servant for City and a player still capable of playing the defensive side of the game well, has never been a ball-playing centre-half. He looks uncomfortable in possession, something that makes him unattractive to Pellegrini, who wants to implement a style of play that sees each player capable of having the ball at their feet and passing from the back.
Demichelis is good on the ball. He can take a touch, get his head up and pick a pass. He fits the mould of player Pellegrini wants.
Most have chosen to ignore the positives, though. The Barcelona game was a clear example: Up until his foul on Messi, he was having his finest game for the club, but that was whitewashed from history by a media intent on presenting him as a disaster waiting to happen.
However, the tide somewhat turned on Saturday when in the face of extreme adversity Demichelis delivered an inspired display. With Kompany dismissed inside 10 minutes for a professional foul on Nikica Jelavic, Demichelis emerged as City’s defensive leader. Time and again he won headers and tackles, repelling the home side’s attacks, diminishing their numerical advantage.
It's the best City have played the offside trap in years, and it was Demichelis orchestrating it. He was the man conducting the synchronised movements that continually found the Hull forwards offside, frustrating the opposition, nullifying attack after attack.
The victory at the KC Stadium was City’s most hard-fought and rewarding of the season. The sight of Demichelis leading the defensive side of the win is unlikely to alter the negative perception of him completely, but City will be hoping it sees a period of more consistent performances from him.
If he can cut out the reckless errors and perform like he did on Saturday, City’s title chances will increase. It all starts this weekend in the home game against Fulham. With Kompany suspended, City need another showing from Demichelis like the one he gave at Hull.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.
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