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Tackles, grit and goals: How Benatia changed Roma's defense
After Marquinhos' departure there was a bit of skepticism about the new arrival from Udinese. After 17 games, the Moroccan has persuaded even his harshest detractors
by Mohamed Ezzat
It sounds quite strange that Roma fans received the best Christmas present from a man who doesn't even celebrate this recurrence, as he is Muslim. Mehdi Benatia is one of the best defenders in this 2013-2014 season. In the pre-Christmas match against Catania he scored two goals and certainly was the man of the match. The defender is currently Roma's top scorer along with Alessandro Florenzi, Gervinho and Kevin Strootman.



Benatia was born in France from a Moroccan father and a Tunisian mother. He is a center-back who prefers using the right foot and he's phisically strong (1,90cm, 88 kg). His best skills are anticipation, marking, ball interception, tackling and aerial duels. But he is good at passing the ball and can be considered a defending playmaker. These qualities have helped his team very much: Roma have the best defense in Europe so far with only 7 goals conceded in 17 games.

In the past summer, Mehdi Benatia moved from Udinese to Roma for €13,5 M. Many people thought that the price was definitely excessive for a defender, but in the first half of this season (16 caps and 4 goals) he has already contradicted everyone. Benatia is currently fifth in the WhoScored individual rating. Only Inter's Ricardo Alvarez, Juventus' Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba and Parma's Alessandro Lucarelli have performed better than him. He is also in fifth position in the ranking of the best ball-recoverers.

No one is perfect, and Benatia also has a weakness. He has committed too many fouls, which so far have cost him two suspensions. Mehdi Benatia likes short passes but it can be a double-edged sword as he can’t support his teammates with long crosses to support counter attacks. On the other hand, that should prove very helpful in creating more ball possession. A strategy that Roma's coach Rudi Garcia adopts quite often this season.

At the international level the Moroccan center back got the call from the Algerian national team as his mother holds that nationality but he chose to go with his father's country to represent Morocco. It could be good for Roma in the next few years as there won’t be any big event for the Moroccan national team, which will give him more time to focus on his career with the Giallorossi.

Mehdi is 26 years old and his career mainly developed in France. He played for the youth teams of Guingamp and Marseille, then for the first team of Tours, Lorient and Clermont, the team that sold him to Udinese for €0,5 M in 2010. For the Friulani, Benatia played 80 times scoring 6 goals. In the summer of 2013, he signed for Roma. This is the best chance of his career: a chance that the Moroccan defender is marvelously exploiting.

Friday, December 27 th, 2013
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