Richards has endured a frustrating campaign with injury and has been forced to watch on as Zabaleta has nailed down the right-back spot in Manchester City's starting XI.
The Argentine has been among the most consistent performers for City during a season which has seen too many of their star turns allow their standards to dip.
Richards feels his defensive rival has been the club's standout performer, but admits to being disappointed at not being able to scale those heights himself in 2012/13.
The England international, who hopes to return from a knee operation in Monday's Manchester derby with United, said: "I've watched the lads this season and Zaba has been my player of the season so far.
"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."