Is Manuel Akanji a shrewd addition to Manchester City?

Rahul Madhavan
By Rahul Madhavan
7 Min Read
Manuel-Akanji-Manchester-City

Manchester City are close to signing Switzerland international Manuel Akanji from Borussia Dortmund for a fee close to €17.5 million. Man City rarely tend to go into the market in the back end of the window, but with injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake, Guardiola has decided to get his hands on Dortmund’s center half.

Akanji was seen as a player with world-class potential when the German team signed him. However, his career has certainly not lived up to expectations. Man City, though, offers a fresh challenge, and it is well worth reminding that he is still just 27. So, what can Akanji provide for Pep Guardiola’s already well-oiled machine?

Background and Injury History

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Akanji started his career with Swiss team FC Winterthur before he was snatched by FC Basel in 2015. He had an impressive time with the Swiss Champions and had admirers throughout Europe, including Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, before sealing a move to Dortmund back in January 2018. Signed at a reported fee of £19.5 million, he started 10 times in the Bundesliga during his first season under new manager Peter Stoger.

With Arsenal snatching Sokratis the following season, Akanji was slowly introduced to the first team and grabbed his opportunity under Lucien Favre. He started 25 times that season and has been one of Dortmund’s important players over the next three years.

Akanji suffered a Cruciate Ligament injury during his FC Basel days, which kept him out for over 9 months. Despite a long-term injury, he played an important part in the following seasons, especially during Basel’s UEFA Champions League group stage campaign in 2017. Although he is certainly not an injury-prone player, he has suffered multiple minor injuries during his time at Dortmund. The 27-year-old even had a knee surgery last season that kept him out for over a month.

The former Basel man made his debut for the Switzerland national team in 2017 and has been a mainstay ever since. Following his move to Dortmund, he has made 41 appearances so far at the international stage and was part of the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Euros as well.

Strengths

Standing at 6 feet 1, Akanji is a strong and physical player who does not hide from battles. Akanji played in a high line at Dortmund under various managers since he has the experience of playing for top teams. One standout attribute, however, is his pace. He is quick off his defensive line and can cover the wide areas vacated by the fullbacks.

This is an important asset for a team like Manchester City since Guardiola plays a high line and faces opponents who look to target the space in behind the fullbacks. Moreover, the likes of Stones, Dias and Laporte – City’s first-choice center halves do not possess the pace compared to Akanji. Hence, he could provide the variety needed in the position.

Akanji is arguably also a front-foot defender who loves to win the ball and carry it forward. He usually gets tight behind the center forward and likes to make his mark on games in the most physical manner. His imposing size makes him a very difficult man to play against. With that being said, he has been criticized for making rash decisions, especially during 1v1 scenarios. In the Premier League and for a team like Man City, where the margin for error is close to zero, Akanji undoubtedly needs to improve this facet of his game.

He has usually been paired with Mats Hummels during the 2021/22 season. Dortmund, like Man City, prefers to play out from the back and the Swiss plays a key role in ball progression. He is comfortable on the ball – which is necessary for Pep Guardiola’s center-back and possesses the ability to carry it forward with precision. Moreover, he is adept at making line-breaking passes under pressure, so he could prove to be an admirable addition for the Citizens.

His passing stats last season also make good reading – as per FBref he is ranked 89th and 91st percentile for progressive carries and progressive passes respectively when compared to fellow center-backs. Additionally, he is only behind Aymeric Laporte for progressive distance in terms of passing when estimated against fellow Manchester City center halves (Stones, Dias, Ake). The 27-year-old has also earned a reputation for his switch of plays, which is a valuable asset for Guardiola’s team since Man City like to isolate their winger against fullbacks.

Conclusion

In a year where the games will arrive thick and fast, Manchester City’s decision to sign Manuel Akanji at a cheap price could prove to be a bargain. Despite having four quality players in the position, Stones, Dias, Ake and Laporte have suffered from knocks and injuries. As a result, Guardiola was forced to play with Fernandinho in defence in season defining games.

Further, Laporte’s knee injury will keep him out of action at least until the end of September. Ake’s knock against Newcastle United and Stones’ injury record means that adding Akanji to the ranks is a sensible move. With the winter world cup scheduled this year, teams are forced to play high-intensity games every three days.

While Akanji is by no means a first-choice defender, he could prove to be an important addition as the season progresses. Moreover, these are the peak years of his career, and he will unquestionably take this opportunity to improve his game under Guardiola and increase the competition in Man City.

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