FootballAnalysis: Manuel Akanji at Manchester City, praise for flexibility
Praised by Pep Guardiola, the Swiss defender has already made himself indispensable to his new team. Because he knows how to do almost anything, and well.
255 million euros. That’s the amount Manchester City have spent to sign the five centre-backs that make up their current workforce, according to Transfermarkt calculations. Manuel Akanji is the least spender (€17.5 million) but he plays the most. Arriving in early September, the Zurich defender immediately imposed himself without making a sound. His performances even earned him the team’s MVP award in October.
Akanji is perhaps less flashy than Ruben Dias and doesn’t have as much finesse on the ball as Aymeric Laporte or John Stones. On the other hand, it is reliable in all areas and has great adaptability. In short, a “gift to the coach” praised Pep Guardiola at a press conference a month ago. “Manu made a huge impact after he came. The club made an incredible purchase with him,” continued the Catalan technician.
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A moving environment
Manuel Akanji’s first contribution is obviously defence. A surprise Skyblues recruit at the very end of the summer transfer window, the Swiss international with a Nigerian passport has impressed supporters and observers with his composure, solidity in duels, precision of his tackles and sense of anticipation. But in the eyes of Pep Guardiola, defending well is not enough. The latter requires some technical knowledge as well as great tactical flexibility. And on this second point, Akanji’s first two months at Manchester City are exemplary.
Guardiola likes to change systems and compositions from game to game to create different problems for his opponents. The former Basel and Dortmund player experienced this quickly: in eleven games he already had to juggle between three different positions.
Primarily used as a central defender in a four-man defense, he also featured in a three-man defense and even on the right wing. For the first time in this unusual role against Southampton (4-0) on 8 October, Akanji produced a flawless copy, earning the praise of Pep Guardiola: “There are players you have to explain ten times to them what you want. understand. He just needs practice. He never practiced as a defender and performed perfectly. “Smart people are always rewarded.”
Copenhagen, reference match
Akanji – like his partners – must adapt not only from game to game, if not during the game. One of the hallmarks of the personality of Guardiola’s teams is their so-called “fluid” animation, where players are free to change areas as long as the collective occupation of the pitch is good and the overlap of functions is compensated. With Rodri, Bernardo Silva or Kevin De Bruyne standing in and Joao Cancelo scrambling, Akanji is forced to shift regularly. In other words, it cannot be limited to its initial position. But it fits perfectly into this structure.
Only the Champions League match in Copenhagen on October 11 (0:0) sums up all the flexibility of the Zurich player. At the start, in a four-man defense on the right axis, it acted as a change of arrangement when Manchester City found themselves outnumbered with half an hour to go. The English were reduced to three but still substituted with the logic of structural balance. tactical positions. According to the sequence, Akanji thus found himself in the central defender, on the flank and even in the piston. A total of four different uses in 90 minutes.
Ability to break lines
If the Swiss has won Pep Guardiola’s trust so quickly, it is also because of his ball skills. A matter of instruction or alignment, he has been alert in both his passing and movement so far. His pass success rate (94.5%) reflects the safety of his options.
And in snaps, he’s shown the ability to break through opposing lines by passing or driving, two important qualities for a “guard” defender. It’s not for nothing that he is one of the most sought-after city players (averaging 84.8 balls per game). And often the first solution for recovery.
Less than two weeks before Switzerland’s participation in the World Cup, Murat Okin should observe the situation with joy. The coach prepares to restore the frame with full confidence. Which doesn’t close any doors. “I am sure that we can achieve something great. Yes, I would like to win this World Cup, “he wrote to Keystone-ATS during the last rally.
For Manuel Akanji, “the sky is the limit”. Right now, it’s blue blue.