Football: Analysis – Manuel Akanji at Manchester City, praised for flexibility

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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.

Manuel Akanji has already put everyone in his pocket just two months after his arrival at Manchester City.

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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.

“Manu made a huge impact after he came. The club made an incredible purchase with him.

“Manchester City” head coach Pep Guardiola

Also read: Manuel Akanji, “Jefe” of Romareda

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.

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Manuel Akanji plays mostly at right center in a four-man defense.

Manuel Akanji plays mostly at right center in a four-man defense.

With the ball, Manchester City regularly opt for a line of three defenders to ensure recovery.

With the ball, Manchester City regularly opt for a line of three defenders to ensure recovery.

The native of Zurich helped in time as a defender.  On October 8

The native of Zurich helped in time as a defender. Like against Southampton on October 8th.

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.”

Manuel Akanji's heat map with Manchester City this season.  Its wide operating radius reflects the flexibility of its deployment.

Manuel Akanji’s heat map with Manchester City this season. Its wide operating radius reflects the flexibility of its deployment.

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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.

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Akanji started the game as a central defender in a 4-man defence.

Akanji started the game as a central defender in a 4-man defence.

The Skyblues rotate around a three-man defense in attack, with Joao Cancelo positioned high up on the right.

The Skyblues rotate around a three-man defense in attack, with Joao Cancelo positioned high up on the right.

After the dismissal of Sergio Gomez, the Swiss initially switched to right-back, while City switched to a three-centre formation.

After the dismissal of Sergio Gomez, the Swiss initially switched to right-back, while City switched to a three-centre formation.

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.

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On the right, Manuel Akanji sees winger Riyad Mahrez moved inside, making room behind him.

On the right, Manuel Akanji sees winger Riyad Mahrez moved inside, making room behind him.

However, the Swiss are not in a hurry, maintaining a central location.

However, the Swiss are not in a hurry, maintaining a central location.

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.

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When the center is right in a four-man defence, Akanji is often the first choice to step up.

When the center is right in a four-man defence, Akanji is often the first choice to step up.

The second example here is where he drops back to get close to Ederson and play the game in front of him.

The second example here is where he drops back to get close to Ederson and play the game in front of him.

Akanji finds Haaland between the lines.  In one pass, he eliminates five opposing players.

Akanji finds Haaland between the lines. In one pass, he eliminates five opposing players.

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.

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