Even at the cut-price of £15 million, many unaware football fans were skeptical of Manchester City’s move for Manuel Akanji. The thought was that he was an unreliable defender, who frequently made critical defensive errors leading to goals. This happened a few times in Akanji’s early days at BVB, and painfully for fans, most crucially in the lead-up to Dortmund losing the title in Favre’s first year. But what many failed to recognize despite my constant banging of the drum last year – Akanji had grown into one of the best defenders on the planet in his final two seasons at the club.
He was immaculate in Edin Terzic’s first spell in charge at the club, and I can’t remember a time when a Dortmund defender had a more impactful and complete performance in a recent match than the poise and finesse he accomplished in the DFB Pokal final against Leipzig – Dortmund’s only trophy win since the days of Thomas Tuchel.Embed from Getty Images
He then went on to play wonderfully well under Marco Rose as the team’s most consistent defensive performer, boasting one of the highest success rates on pressure percentage in the division. I tipped him to be the perfect Antonio Rüdiger replacement at Chelsea, the ideal ‘Sweeper’ to come into the back at United in place of Harry Maguire, and even the perfect partner for Nico Schlotterbeck had he chosen to stay at Dortmund. But none of the three wanted to take the shot on the Swiss defender and secure his services. Instead, it was Manchester City and their immensely impressive scouting department that took a chance on the 15-million-pound man, adding a fifth top-quality centre-back to their ranks – as if they didn’t already have enough.Embed from Getty Images
Since then, Manuel Akanji has been one of City’s most consistent performers, and an unbreakable wall at the back that Guardiola loves having in his lineup. This has been all the more impressive as even I, an Akanji stan, thought that he would struggle to start against the likes of Dias, Stones and Laporte. Instead of any of the three City centre-back legends, it’s been Akanji who’s started nearly every single game since his arrival. With that, here is my latest tactical analysis of why Manuel Akanji is a genuinely world class centre-back, and everything he’s accomplished at City so far.
MASTER OF TIMINGEmbed from Getty Images
Boasting one of the best pressure percentages in a league that prioritizes pressing is immensely impressive, and it shows Akanji to be a master of timing and angling. Now that he’s transfered over to City, Akanji has only continued his impressive ability to time his challenges. Any time a ball is played over the top of the defense, Akanji coolly handles the situation and uses his calming presence alongside his daring speed to race ahead of the forward and get his body in the way. This is why I thought he’d be the ideal ‘Sweeper’ to play in a United side that operated with an extraordinarily high-line, particularly in front of a keeper who had no inclinations toward sweeping. Akanji’s pace and power makes him unbelievably difficult to bypass in transition. While Dortmund fans often lamented his soft approach in his first few years, he matured into a defender that utilized a less-aggressive edge to accomplish a sense of assuredness in his challenges, whilst appropriately using his body without stepping over the edge.
Akanji has continued similar feats with the Citizens, and this is undoubtedly one of the central reasons why he’s continued in the side, and why he was recruited in the first place. Akanji handles those transitional moments well, and nicely covers for his out of position mates at the right moments. He angles his body in such a way that it then makes it very difficult for a wide player to cut back inside or play a pass in-field, forcing the player into a 1v1 battle that they will rarely ever win.
His astute awareness of when to step on his opposition and get touch-tight, either to intercept a pass or handle a 1v1 situation, also speaks to his tactical intelligence. His quick footwork across the grass allows him to get to receivers in the blink of an eye, and he’s almost always able to slow himself down and handle the situation to great effect in helping his side win back possession.Embed from Getty Images
Speedsters and tricky dribblers alike can’t react quick enough to that fast footwork across the pitch, and he’s been dribbled past just 0.3 times per game so far with the Citizens. Along the way, he’s made 2.2 tackles per 90 at an 82% success rate (1.8 won), and battled his way to a 67.7% defensive dueling rate, helping to sew up City’s transitional moments and defensive solidity.
He’s become famous for his ability to solve any multiplication question in the blink of an eye, but I think his defensive destruction is equally impressive.
CONFIDENT ON-THE-BALL PRESENCEEmbed from Getty Images
Manuel Akanji is far from just a destructive defender, and as a City recruit, you have to be. Akanji oozes class on the ball, confidently carrying and playing out from the back to the same heightened level of the likes of Dias, Laporte and Stones. It’s no mystery why Guardiola thought he’d be the perfect player to seamlessly fit into their plans, as an all-round excellent passer and progressor. Completing over 75% of his dribbles this season, Akanji is difficult to stop when he gets his head up and sees spaces to roam. He’s been dispossessed just once in the Prem since he arrived, at a rate of 0.2 times per 90.Embed from Getty Images
As a passer and progressor of the ball, Akanji’s been impressive in combining with his fellow teammates and aiding in City’s dominance and control through short passing sequences. He’s completed 93% of his passes so far this season, including 70.8% of his long passes and 87% of his forward passes. It’s true that his long passes are down to a third of what they were in his final season with the Black & Yellows, but it’s an element of his game that can still be used when he wants to bring switches of play or passes over the top for Erling Haaland to chase. Beyond just his former BVB friend, the Swiss defender is incisive in finding teammates in the right areas inside the final third, and his composure under pressure makes him the ideal City asset.
Quick thinking in these high-pressure situations, Akanji nicely assesses when to play against the pressure and break through the gaps, and when to recycle play instead and allow the team to reset and switch the play.
Importantly, for his on-the-ball presence, he just looks like a carbon copy of players like Laporte, Stones and Dias, which is the best compliment you could possibly give to a centre-back coming into play with the Sky Blues. This ensures that Guardiola will continue to have a selection headache at every turn, and that Dortmund man can continue to push for his case to start each and every match.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Manuel Akanji has been a destructive force since entering the scene with the Sky Blues, but it’s his timing of challenges and calming on-the-ball presence that have impressed to start his City career. He’s won 82% of his tackles, 67% of his defensive duels, and has been dribbled past just 0.3 times per game, helping to aid Guardiola’s approach to defensive transitions. On the ball, he’s completed 75% of his dribbles and 93% of his passes, ensuring that he fits right into City’s plans of combining in the right areas to progressively work their way up to the final third. He will continue to be a force for the Sky Blues all season long, and looks to be one of the best bargains of the summer transfer window so far.
So there it is! Our tactical analysis of the great Manuel Akanji at the start of his Manchester City career. Be sure to check out more of our analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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