Per Mertesacker has been absent with illness recently (via The Guardian), but shouldn’t be sidelined for too long. Should the giant German walk straight back into the starting XI when he returns though? Or should our new Brazilian beast Gabriel retain his starting spot?
Gabriel was called up alongside Calum Chambers for our clash with Liverpool, and while our defence looked shaky to say the least, the 24-year-old was forced to compensate for a multitude of mistakes made by his young defensive partner – and did so with aplomb. The former Villarreal star didn’t come out looking too bad, and his qualities were on display once again when he was named alongside Koscielny to face Newcastle.
The two men are somewhat similar in a number of ways, with both boasting agility, pace, excellent recovery, and an extremely aggressive style of play. They compliment each other well despite their similarities though, and although they didn’t have much to do against ten man Newcastle, what they did they did well.
It’s far too soon to tell whether Gabriel is ready to displace Mertesacker completely, but so far he is yet to put a foot wrong. It would be harsh to drop him after two solid performances, so at least for the moment, he deserves to keep his place.
The numbers (via WhoScored) are certainly in Gabriel’s favour, with the ex-La Liga star coming out on top in almost every area.
With two games played each, Gabriel has made 3 tackles per game to Mertesacker’s 1.5, 2.5 interceptions to his 2, 7 clearances to his 5, and 0.5 blocks a piece.
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The only superiority the 30-year-old can really boast is experience and leadership, and that may not be enough to win him his spot back.
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We’ll be playing at home against Stoke, and consequently are expected to dominate possession. A high defensive line would therefore be beneficial, so we can squeeze up the pitch and put pressure on Mark Hughe’s side. This is where Gabriel can shine, and where Mertesacker’s lack of pace could let him down.
It remains to be seen whether Gabriel can make the spot his own this season, but he at the very least deserves a little longer to prove himself.