The adage goes that you need to have a certain profile to play as a Center Back in a Pep Guardiola team. You just need to look at the kind of Center Backs Pep has worked with over the course of his managerial career to understand the character and courage it takes to defend wide open spaces at the back. Despite having fit backup center backs on the bench, Pep has trusted his CDM’s to play the center back role on several occasions. This tell you about the level of qualities that are required to earn the trust of Pep in the Center Half position.
Excellent Passing and concentration
The ability to start attacks from the back is a non – negotiable skill for Pep Guardiola. If you look at all of our Center Backs, none of their primary skills are defensive. Ruben Dias is the only exception to it. So, Akanji falls into the category of someone in the bracket of John Stones. Basically, you could say that he is a pacey version of John Stones.
Dortmund have used him heavily in the buildup play least season. Only five Bundesliga center-backs who played 1000+ minutes averaged more passes per 90 last season (71.09). Despite this, he still had the second-best pass success rate across the division (92.32 per cent). This tells you about his supreme ball playing ability and why Pep wanted him
His passing to break the lines is excellent and he has those dribbling skills to get out of trouble in tight situations. Pace is the differentiating factor between Akanji and all of our other Center Halves. You could be easily forgiven for thinking Akanji is a full back. His pace is almost the same as Joao Cancelo.
An other thing that strikes me about Akanji is the intelligence he displays in tight situations. His concentration in tough moments is top notch. He has various tools at his disposal to get out of nervy moments. Just like Joao Cancelo surprised many people with his skills, Akanji will do the same. You will see skills from him and be wonderstruck. But, the best part about Akanji is that he knows when to use those skills. For the most part, he likes to keep things simple. I feel the key to being a very good Center Half in a Pep system is to keep it as simple as possible.
Very good in one on one situations
Many people think that if you have pace, then you are generally a good one on one defender. This is such a non-sensical statement for me. Defending has nothing to do with pace. We have seen some legendary defenders in the past with pace slower than a snail. Intelligence and positional awareness are the two most important factors for one on one defending. When you look at the clips of Akanji in 1v1 situations, the first thing that strikes you is his body positioning. His body positioning and shape is so good that he is ready for the attackers going either way. This is such a rare trait to see.
When you combine his excellent body positioning with pace, the combination looks irresistible. People are talking about Akanji coming in to be a 4th or even a 5th choice option. But, I feel that he could slot straight into our first team. I know that there is an adjustment period for every player that comes into the Pep system. But, we have seen in the past with Eric Garcia that if you have the necessary intelligence regarding positional play, then you go straight into the team.
Injuries are the only concern
Akanji was seen as a player having world class potential since his younger days. The only thing is that injuries have derailed him and he has not been able to achieve the heights that his talent and potential have commanded. Now, Akanji is just 27 and this is generally the age when Defenders come into their own. An other important aspect to this is the fact that we have got Dr. Roman Cugat and an excellent medical team. So, I am not that scared on the injury front. If the player is truly committed and he wants to get over his injury problems, then no one can stop him. Gundogan was also injury prone when he came form Dortmund. But, you look at how fit Gundogan has been since his arrival. So, injury issues of Akanji are not bothering me as much. Apart from injuries, I don’t see a any other major weakness in Akanji’s game.