In a team containing stars such as David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Touré and Carlos Tevez it’s easy to forget about the contribution of players like Pablo Zabaleta. However, since joining City in the summer of 2008 the Buenos Aires-born full-back has firmly established himself as something of a cult hero with his committed tackling and indefatigable overlapping from deep.
I’ll admit that when Mark Hughes took over and sold our first choice right back, Vedran Corluka, to Spurs – after he’d impressed the previous season – I was disappointed. However, Zabaleta, who’d spent three seasons at Espanyol, was brought in for around £6m and Corluka was soon forgotten.
The Argentine international has a rare humilty that endears himself to fans, he seems to understand that he is genuinely privileged to be playing professional football for Manchester City and it shows in his performances. He’s one of those players who will be at least a seven or an eight out of 10 every time he plays and he’s had some great moments in his four and a half years at the Etihad. Here I pick of three of his best:
1. Fulham 1 Manchester City 4 (21/11/10)
City went to Craven Cottage having won only one of their previous six games and were stuttering in the race for the top four. A visit to Fulham to face former boss Mark Hughes was expected to be very tricky indeed, but a superb team display of fluid passing and clinical finishing saw them 3-0 up inside 35 minutes. Zabaleta was in imperious form, forcing back Fulham’s attacking left-back Carlos Salcido with a series of raids down the right. After Tevez had given City an early lead it was Zabaleta who doubled the scoring, finding space on the edge of the area and cutting across the ball beautifully to hit a powerful drive past Schwarzer. He nearly repeated the trick just after half-time but his long range effort took a flick off Tevez’s heels on the way in.
2. Manchester City 2 West Ham United 1 (1/5/11)
The Blues all but cemented a place in the top four with this hard-fought win and it was Zabaleta who scored the crucial winning goal after quarter of an hour. A typically tenacious run saw him surge past three in claret and blue to be picked out by a delicious ball over the top of a static West Ham defence from David Silva. Zabaleta was being fouled as he pulled the trigger lashing across goal to cross the line via a deflection off the bar. This game was also notable for another unsung hero, Nigel De Jong, scoring his first goal in sky blue.
3. Manchester City 3 QPR 2 (13/5/12)
There’s not a lot left unsaid about this momentous day for the blue half of Manchester back in May but it is easy to forget that in a tense first half it was Zabaleta who forced the game’s opening goal after 39 minutes. It certainly wasn’t pretty but, once again, it highlighted his never-say-die attitude. After his initial cross from the right is blocked, Zabaleta doesn’t give up, instead he gets himself into a dangerous position in the area receives a pass from Yaya and pokes it in via a deflection to give City a precious lead. His joyous reaction is almost Tardelli-esque!