Of all the players at Valencia that will have lamented the loss of Jordi Alba in the summer, Jeremy Mathieu must have wondered what life would be without his left sided partner in crime.
The 29-year old Frenchman signed by Unai Emery forged a formidable understanding with the Spanish international overlapping to such devastating effect with energy and directness but not without forgetting to cover their defensive tracks. Eleven assists between the two players last season does not really illustrate the effectiveness of the partnership and the Alba and Mathieu show was certainly an entertaining one while it lasted.
But when Barcelona came calling and Alba could not resist the lure of his former club, Mauricio Pellegrino still decided to find a replacement despite having Mathieu in the squad, with Aly Cissokho signed to fill the Alba-sized void instead. So the former Lyon player started as first choice at the beginning of the season and remained there as Mathieu remained sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury.
Valencia under-performed in the first half of the season and after a 5-2 defeat to Real Sociedad Pellegrino was given his marching orders. So in came Ernesto Valverde, and the Spaniard who had been building his managerial reputation in Greece and his homeland sought to reinvigorate the side by taking some of the players out of their comfort zones. Andres Guardado was dropped to left back with great success ousting Cissokho who still looked liable to making costly mistakes and when Mathieu returned to full fitness, Valverde pushed the Frenchman into the middle of the defence alongside one of Victor Ruiz or Ricardo Costa with Rami still out injured.
In the last nine games Los Che have lost two games one to Bilbao and more recently to an in form Real Sociedad, and while goals are still being conceded Mathieu has looked more than comfortable in his new role in what could prove an astute decision by Valverde. Dominant in the air, comfortable carrying the ball out defence and seemingly more disciplined now that he has been given the responsibility to form the defensive spine of the team. Mathieu crucially, has the recovery pace to make the seamless transition to centre back.
Valverde’s reinvention of Mathieu could prove vital if Valencia hope to secure European football next season which looks more likely to be Europa League rather than the Champions League at the minute. The full back turned centre back transformation is not complete, but Mathieu must be hoping that his performances have not gone unnoticed by the man who once pulled on the same white shirt more than ten years ago and now hopes to lead Les Bleus to Brazil in 2014. Automatic qualification is by no means a guarantee for Deschamps but if he has to pick a squad that is the right blend of quality and versatility, Mathieu now at the peak of his powers is making a strong case to be sounded out for an international call-up.