Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manuel Akanji's weak foot and bad angles at left center-back in Manchester City's 3-2

May 1, 2023 — Manuel Akanji was used as a left center-back in a 3-2 sub-structure for Manchester City yesterday when they played Fulham, and it did not work due to the poor angles and his right footedness.

Akanji is right footed. To use his favored right foot, and avoid using his weaker left foot, he has to perform two touches. For example, if he were to receive the ball from Ruben Dias:

  1. He has to take a touch with his left foot to switch the ball to his right foot.
  2. Wait to set his body for the pass.
  3. Second touch to pass the ball.

By the time he sets his body to pass on his second touch, the defender, who is curving his run to shadow cover the pass to the left wing, would end up right in his face blocking that pass. The only pass that would be on is a pass to someone who is on his right.

He looks uncomfortable turning his hips when receiving the ball on his left foot to play the ball with his left, and will rarely play a first time pass with his left foot to someone on his left.

His weak foot accuracy isn’t as reliable when you compare it to someone like Aymeric Laporte who is left-footed and has played at left-back more regularly as the backup to right-footed Nathan Ake. Both Laporte and Ake are more comfortable playing with both their feet and have experience playing on the left side of defenses. They don’t have the same awkwardness on the ball.

The fact Laporte is left-footed means he can receive the ball on his left, and his first touch can be wide to his to than pass with his left foot, so the angles are better. Also, he is more likely to play the ball first time with his left foot.

Figure 1.1 - Dias passes to Akanji and Reed curves his run to shadow cover Gundogan.
Figure 1.2 - Akanji takes his first touch with his left foot to switch the ball to his right foot.
Figure 1.3 - Akanji readies the pass but all the passing lanes are blocked off except for the pass to Jack Grealish, who is out of picture.

Akanji has three options:

  1. Pass to Haaland off balance. He has not set his hips to cleanly strike the ball in the direction of Haaland.
  2. Short pass to Jack Grealish. (This is the option he picked)
  3. Take one more touch and pass back to Dias.

The pass to Grealish is a luxury because what if Fulham structured their press to shadow cover Grealish, Gundogan, Rodri, and Stones.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of Fulham blocking off the pass to Grealish, Gundogan, Rodri, and Stones.

Figure 2.1 is something I could see teams doing to force Akanji to pass back to Dias on every possession. It would force Manchester City to create chances that only originate from their right side. That would make their buildup predictable which in turn would make it easier to stop because there are only so many ways you can create a chance from one side of the pitch and the left side is their stronger side.

Figure 3.1 - Akanji playing in a triangle with Gundogan and Grealish on the left-wing.

When Akanji gets into positions like this where he’s oriented forward towards goal, further forward, he looks comfortable. His link up play is crisp, and he is deceptively fast.

With time he will become more comfortable in this position because he’s very intelligent, but I worry about how this change effects the dynamics of the team offensively and defensively.

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