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

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SoccerAnalysis: 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 everything, and well.

Barely two months after his arrival at Manchester City, Manuel Akanji has put everything in his pocket.

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255 million euros. This is, according to Transfermarkt estimates, the amount Manchester City spent to recruit the five central defenders that make up its current workforce. Manuel Akanji is the least expensive (17.5 million euros), but he plays the most. Arriving at the beginning of September, the defender of Zurich immediately imposed himself, without making a sound. His performances even earned him the title of best player in the team in October.

Akanji is perhaps less flashy than Ruben Dias and doesn’t have as good ball-to-foot as Aymeric Laporte or John Stones. On the other hand, he is reliable in all areas and has tremendous flexibility. In other words, a “gift for the coach”, praised Pep Guardiola in a press conference a month ago. “Manu has had a big impact since arriving. The club made an incredible acquisition of him,” continued the Catalan technician.

“Manu has had a huge impact since arriving. The club have made an incredible signing with him.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Also read: Manuel Akanji, the “Jefe” of Romareda

Moving environment

Manuel Akanji’s first contribution was obviously defensive. A surprise recruit of the Skyblues at the very end of the summer transfer window, the Swiss international with a Nigerian passport has amazed supporters and observers with his composure, his stability in duels, the precision of his interventions and to his sense of hope. However, defending well is not enough in Pep Guardiola’s eyes. The latter requires a certain technical background as well as great tactical flexibility. And on this second point, Akanji’s first two months at Manchester City were a model.

Guardiola likes to vary systems and compositions from game to game, to cause different problems for his opponents. The former Basel and Dortmund player experienced this quickly: in eleven games, he had to juggle between three different positions.

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Manuel Akanji often plays as a right central in a four-man defense.

Manuel Akanji often plays as a right central in a four-man defense.

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

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

At the right time, the Zurich resident helped out as a full-back.  Like against Southampton on October 8.

At the right time, the Zurich resident helped out as a full-back. Like against Southampton on October 8.

Primarily used as a central defender in a four-man defense, he has also been inserted into a three-man defense and as a right-back. For his first in this unusual role, against Southampton (4-0) on October 8, Akanji produced an impeccable copy and won the praise of Pep Guardiola: “There are players you have to explain if what do you want ten times for them. understand. He just needs a workout. He didn’t train once as a full-back and he was perfect. Smart people are always rewarded.”

Manuel Akanji's heatmap at Manchester City this season.  Its wide radius of action reflects its positioning flexibility.

Manuel Akanji’s heatmap at Manchester City this season. Its wide radius of action reflects its positioning flexibility.

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Copenhagen, the reference match

Akanji – like his partners – not only has to adjust from game to game, if not during the season. One of the markers of the identity of Guardiola’s teams lies in their so-called “liquid” animation, whose players are free to change places, as long as the collective work on the field is good and the overruns of function is compensated. With the stalls of Rodri, Bernardo Silva or Kevin De Bruyne along with the ascents of Joao Cancelo, Akanji is regularly forced to move. In other words, it cannot be locked in its original position. But he fully accepts this structure.

The Champions League match in Copenhagen (0-0) on October 11 alone summed up all the flexibility of the Zurich player. Right axial in the four-man defense at kick-off, he acted as an adjustment variable as Manchester City found themselves outplayed on the half-hour mark. English fell to three but, still in the logic of structural balance, took turns. the tactical arrangements. According to the sequences, Akanji found himself central defender, flank and even piston. A total of four different uses in 90 minutes.

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Akanji started the game as a centre-back in a four-man defence.

Akanji started the game as a centre-back in a four-man defence.

The Skyblues rotate in a three-man defense in the offensive phase, Joao Cancelo is placed very high on the right side.

The Skyblues rotate in a three-man defense in the offensive phase, Joao Cancelo is placed very high on the right side.

After the exclusion of Sergio Gomez, the Swiss first became a right-back, before City settled on a three-central system.

After the exclusion of Sergio Gomez, the Swiss first became a right-back, before City settled on a three-central system.

Ability to break lines

If the Swiss quickly gained the confidence of Pep Guardiola, it was, moreover, through his skills on the ball. Question of instructions or adaptation, so far he has shown gentleness, both in his transmissions and his movements. His pass success rate (94.5%) reflects the security of his options.

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On the right, Manuel Akanji here saw his winger Riyad Mahrez moved inside, giving him space at the back.

On the right, Manuel Akanji here saw his winger Riyad Mahrez moved inside, giving him space at the back.

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

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

However, in snatches, he showed that he can destroy the opposing line by passing or driving, two important qualities for a “guardiolesque” defender. It is not for nothing that he is one of the most in-demand Cityzens (84.8 balls per game on average). And, often, the first recovery solution.

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When he is at center right in a four-man defense, Akanji is often the first option to bring on.

When he is at center right in a four-man defense, Akanji is often the first option to bring on.

Second example here, where he drops back to get close to Ederson and the game is in front of him.

Second example here, where he drops back to get close to Ederson and the game is 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 enters the World Cup, Murat Yakin must observe the situation with joy. The coach prepares to recover a framework with full confidence. That doesn’t close any doors. “I am convinced that we can achieve something big. Yes, I want to win this World Cup,” he posted on Keystone-ATS during the final rally.

For Manuel Akanji, “the sky is the limit”. Right now, this one is blue blue.

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