Injury has forced the England international to watch from the sidelines as the Argentinian continues to impress at right-back for the Premier League champions.
While Richards admits that he wishes it was him who was receiving all the plaudits, the 24-year-old believes that Zabaleta has been City's best player this season.
"I've watched the lads this season and Zaba has been my player of the season so far," said Richards. "He's been incredible and deserves all the plaudits he's been getting. But I can't help thinking I wish it was me.
"Last season, both Zaba and me were playing well so both of us had runs in the team. Now, because he's had a good run in the side, he's proved he's one of the best defenders around and has fantastic commitment and desire. I think we're very similar in that way.
"If I'd been fit, I think I'd have had a similarly successful season, and that's where the frustration kicks in."
Richards is hoping to be fit to face Manchester United on Monday, having undergone a knee operation earlier this campaign.