I have never thought that i would ask this question anywhere in the near future. Only a week back, it seemed as if we were ever close to a defensive crisis. With Walker limping off against Villa and Pep stating that Laporte will take longer than expected, it seemed all doom and gloom. Add to all this, the amount of goals we were conceding, it was just a matter of time before the roof fell on our head. I am not at all over exaggerating here, the defensive calamity situation was a real possibility.
Yes, now we can all relax and even have a smile on our faces that all our defenders are fit and training. There is even news that Laporte could make an appearance from the bench against Dortmund. But, i will frankly tell you that i was damn scared with there being a possibility of that horrendous defensive crisis from the 2019-20 season repeating again. The signing of Akanji in a way made sure that we gave ourselves the best possibility to avoid such a crisis. So, kudos to the club for acting in a quick way and putting out the fire early.
The best combination out of the 5?
Now, this is a very tricky question and something which even Pep might struggle to answer. I would group the defenders into 2 categories. One would be based on physicality and out and out defending. The other would be based on pure ball playing ability.
Manuel Akanji is one name surprisingly common among both the categories. Looking at the transfer of Akanji closely, I do think the convincing factor for Pep was his ability to be very athletic and physical combined with his supreme ability on the ball. The combination of both in one player is not something you see too often.
Laporte and Ake dilemma
Now, Pep likes to play a left footed and right footed center back when he has all the players fit and available. So, It’s a straight choice between Laporte and Ake. This is a tough choice, because one is ball playing and the other is physical. Their strengths are different. I will go with a left field choice here. I would chose Ake for the Champions League matches and Laporte for the Premier League matches.
Ake for me is way too solid and has that physicality in 1v1 situations that Laporte is sometimes lacking. Look at the knockout we suffered against Spurs in the round of 16. Laporte was at fault for 2 goals when Son ran at him. I know Laporte is a fan favorite, but we must accept the flaws in him as well. He is simply not the best defender when someone is running at him. So, it would just be a case of not learning from the past if Pep continues to play him in important knockout games.
Akanji vs Stones vs Dias
The common thing about all these 3 is injuries. Everyone of them has a horrific injury record. So, Pep will need to manage them well. But, when everybody is fit, the answer has to be Akanji hands down. Akanji is what Pep expected Stones to become when we bought him. I know Akanji is no where near close to being the complete defender right now, but you can feel his commanding presence and his leadership. He has the abilities of both Dias and Stones combined.
People say Akanji is weak in the air, but whatever I have seen with Akanji, it doesn’t see to be the case. In fact, he seems to be that all conquering, tall and marauding center back. So, it would be a no-brainer to play both Akanji and Laporte in the Premier League and Ake and Akanji in the Champions League.