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Admit it: Jérémy Mathieu has surprised us -- ALL OF US

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

When Jérémy Mathieu was bought from Valencia for the giant amount of €20 million, many eyebrows started rising within the Barcelona community. "Wait, what?! 20 million for a 30-year-old center-back who's not really a center-back and it's nothing more than decent?". It was a legit question at the time.

Then, the start of the season came, and like any other new signing, Mathieu had some difficulty getting comfortable with a new situation. More pressure, more eyeballs, way more criticism over every little mistake, game-costing or not. After years getting repeatedly angry over Barça's inability to find a good player for the team's most precarious position, this is the guy who's supposed to change a half-decade of misery and apprehension every time a team got a corner-kick against us. Unfair? Maybe. But that's what you get by coming to Catalonia.

A good start was followed by a legitimate swoon. During Barça's inconsistent form from November to January, Mathieu was often blamed -- many times fairly -- for not playing at his best. Many questioned again whether or not he was just another failure and a desperate attempt of fixing a problem without searching for the best solution.

And then Barcelona started winning -- a lot. In fact, they've won 19 of their last 20 games, solidifying themselves as a force to be reckoned with once again. Barcelona inspires fear again, and much of that has to do with the formidable output of its defense, which has allowed a more-than-respectful-by-Barça-standards 16 goals in those 20 matches.

Gerard Piqué is the main reason for the defense's improvement. He has returned to world-class form, and he might be the best player at his position in the world again, as the spectacular performance in Sunday's win against Celta Vigo shows. But his partner, Mathieu, who has often started alongside him lately, has quietly played an ultra-important role in the heart of the defense. He's more comfortable with the system and his responsibilities, and he enables Piqué to be Piqué while locking down his own match-ups.

And, as the last two games have showed us, Mathieu can be good on offense too. He scored the first goal in the El Clásico win against Real Madrid, and he absolutely saved the day at Celta when it looked like the Blaugrana were headed to a devastating draw. Those who watched him at Valencia knew about his ability to score clutch goals in fundamental moments, but he hadn't showed that aspect of his game at Barça yet. Until the last two La Liga games.

In a perfect world, Jérémy Mathieu is not the ideal Barcelona center-back. But the truth is, in the current situation, he has been ideal. Now, it would be foolish to give him all the credit. It's kinda sorta easy to look good on defense with a healthy Gerard Piqué playing all-world ball right beside him. However, we have to admit that Mathieu is good enough to hold his own. Back in the summer, we all doubted him, all 100% of us. Thankfully, we were all wrong.

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