Oct 11, 2017

His arrival at Barcelona may have raised a few eyebrows amongst Nou Camp supporters, but Samuel Umtiti has certainly made his mark. Since arriving from Lyon last year, the €25 million price could even be considered a bargain, given the consistently high form and performance of the Frenchman.

Umtiti expertly navigated his first season at the club, showing absolutely no fear of the responsibility that comes with the Barca shirt, whilst adapting swiftly to the style of play demanded as if he were born for it. His appearances were considered talismanic for a large part of the season, with the team seemingly unbeatable whenever he featured.

By their continually stratospheric levels of expectations, the club didn’t achieve its objectives in the final year of Luis Enrique’s tenure, but with Ernesto Valverde now at the helm, the start to the 2017/18 campaign has been nothing short of spectacular, even after a summer filled with disappointments and doubts in the transfer market.

Having secured seven straight wins with an impressive 23 goals scored and just 2 conceded in La Liga, Barcelona have overtaken Real Madrid in the football betting markets as 4/7 title favourites. After a stuttering start at the Bernabeu so far this term for Zidane and Los Blancos, Valverde has slotted into his new managerial post at the Camp Nou with ease, hitting the ground running and inspiring confidence amongst the Blaugrana faithful.

For his part, even after just one full season at the club, Umtiti almost looks like a veteran, given the quality and surety of his displays so far. With some considering that Mascherano is now in decline and that Pique hasn’t been at his best, the 23-year-old has slotted alongside one or the other with ease and sometimes looked the best of the trio of centre-back options.

Indeed, the numbers don’t lie. Looking at the statistics both in La Liga and Champions League action, Umtitit's pass completion percentage is better than that of Pique and Mascherano, he has also won more aerial battles, whilst his overall match ratings are comparable to those of his more established teammates.

Such assured displays backed by pace and power, focus and reliability, plus good old-fashioned grit and determination, are demonstrable traits that were customary for Barca legend Carles Puyol. It's high praise for Umtiti to have been compared to the Barcelona legend, and some experts have even suggested that Umtiti has everything to become a future Blaugrana captain.

Such form and consistency haven’t gone unnoticed by his national team either. French coach Didier Deschamps now regards Umtiti as a vital part of his plans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. His growing importance underlined by seven appearances in 2017 for Les Bleus, coincidentally, ousting Jeremy Mathieu, who he also replaced so effectively at Barca.

If Barcelona are to continue their charge for silverware on all fronts this season there will inevitably be plenty of rotation, but without any shadow of a doubt, Umtiti will have an increasingly important part to play. Right now, he looks the best option alongside Pique at the back, and Mascherano may have to settle for more of a cameo role.

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