Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The space Manuel Akanji's positioning creates

April 27, 2023 — Manuel Akanji, for Manchester City, was trialed at left-back when they faced Arsenal yesterday, and some of the habits he had on the right were transferred over when he played on the left.

Akanji is a highly intelligent defender and is elite in 1v1 situations, but he has three weaknesses:

  • Poor positioning before the ball is played over his head down the line.
  • Poor positioning in relation to his teammates when they move away from him.
  • He’s quick, but he’s not agile when rotating 180 degrees.

Because of the poor positioning of his body, he will often leave large spaces behind him, forcing Ruben Dias at left center-back to fill that space, which then leaves space behind Dias.

Figure 1.1 - Ball is played over Akanji and Dias

In Figure 1.1, the ball is played over Akanji’s head, so Dias steps out to help, but that then leaves space behind Dias for someone to run into. John Stones, at right center-back, can’t commit to cover that space behind Dias.

Figure 2.1 - Akanji steps out leaving space behind him.

Akanji jumping in Figure 2.1 is likely by design, he’s allowed to do that, but like I said, he’s not as agile as Nathan Ake. He could be more careful not to jump in this type of situation because it forces Dias to cover for him.

Figure 3.1 - Pass to Saka over Akanji's head.
Figure 3.2 - Akanji recovers the ball.

This is an example of better positioning by Akanji to take into account the difference in pace between him and Bukayo Saka.

Instead of being mid-rotation when Saka was already at full speed, in this example:

  • His feet were set and ready to run. He didn’t have to rotate his hips 180 degrees once the ball was played.
  • He was at full speed when Saka was at full speed.
  • The space between him and Saka took into account the difference in pace.

He had the space behind him covered.

Here are two examples from past matches that showcase his lapses in awareness when he played at right-back and right center-back.

Figure 5.1 - Against Liverpool, Ake and Dias move but Akanji stays stationary allowing a large space to form between him and Dias.
Figure 5.2 - The ball is played to Jota between Dias and Akanji.
Figure 6.1 - Against Aston Villa, Dias moves but Akanji stays stationary allowing a large space to form centrally. The ball is played to Watkins.
Figure 6.2 - What happened against Aston Villa that allowed the goal.
Figure 6.3 - What should have happened against Aston Villa to stop the goal.

If Manuel Akanji can work on the parts of his game that I outlined, then he will be an irreplaceable asset for Pep Guardiola because of his versatility to play at both right and left full-back and center-back.

I will reserve my judgment on if he is a good replacement at left-back until he is tested in a match where the opponent challenges him more than Arsenal did because Arsenal did not test him.

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