Manuel Akanji is Man City’s bargain and now Pep Guardiola’s clever problem-solver at right-back | Soccer News

Pep Guardiola spent much of his press conference after Manchester City’s direct 4-0 victory over Southampton on Saturday discussing the impact of his summer signing from Borussia Dortmund. But this time it was the other.

Erling Haaland scored the fourth goal against Saints but it was the performance of Manuel Akanji, a £15m signing from Dortmund on deadline day, that was the focus. Akanji had been asked to play out of position at right-back and it looked very easy.

The 27-year-old Swiss international had already shown his worth at City by making a very good impression on Ruben Dias in the center of defense against Manchester United. Here, he was seamlessly slipping in to replace the injured Kyle Walker instead.

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Highlights of Manchester City’s win over Southampton in the Premier League

Everyone starts noticing how good Akanji is – not that he’ll welcome attention. “He is very happy with all the [spotlight] is on Erling,” Guardiola said. “It’s perfect. He is at home with the family. Study math and that kind of stuff.”

These math skills were showcased in a recent interview with sky sports in which Akanji’s multiplication ability was challenged. His intelligence proves to be more than an oddity. It helps him adapt faster than even Guardiola expected.

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Akanji shows off his amazing mental math skills

“When you’re smart, obviously I didn’t know him, but you realize right away. Carlos [Vicens, the set-pieces coach], he said to me: ‘You just tell him once and he knows it’. The movement, defensively and offensively, he trains it and he executes it perfectly.

“It’s a gift for a coach. There are players you have to explain things to 10 times and there are players you have to coach 10 times of what you think or what you want to do. With this guy, we only need one training session just to say things and he got it.”

Walker’s injury left many speculating that Joao Cancelo would move to right-back, just like he did against FC Copenhagen in midweek when Sergio Gomez played at left-back. With John Stones also out, Guardiola looked for options down the right.

Akanji showed against Southampton that was not the case.

Manuel Akanji's stats in Manchester City's win over Southampton

“We’re very happy because now I’ve found out when we need three at the back, playing on the right, wow. With Kyle gone for a long time and John, I don’t know when he’ll be back, he had that chance at right-back. That he can play there is so important to us.”

Although Guardiola’s system is usually described as four from the back, he prefers to build with three. This allows one of the full-backs to step forward. Against Southampton it was Cancelo with Nathan Ake slipping in to cover. It helped Cancelo to score the opening goal.

Manuel Akanji is Man City's bargain and now Pep Guardiola's clever problem-solver at right-back | Soccer News

It demands a lot from the right-back as there is always an obligation to provide width on that flank. There was a moment during the first half where Akanji found himself with only Haaland ahead of him as he stalked away. But the main task is to cover.

“We thought he could do it,” Guardiola said. “It was a bit scary that we hadn’t played him before. We knew he had to come up the field to press and come back, defend crosses at the far post. He didn’t miss a single one. He was absolutely perfect.”

Manuel Akanji's passing heatmap and sonar in Manchester City's win over Southampton
Manchester City's Manuel Akanji, left, and Southampton's Romain Perraud challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England on Saturday October 8, 2022 (AP Photo/Jon Great)
Akanji’s composure on the ball has been a hallmark of his game

He had had little time to prepare. “The move he has to make, the full-back, in our high pressing, he didn’t train him once and he did it perfectly. It proves again, smart person. These people always pay . So yeah, really, really good.”

Akanji made more tackles than any Manchester City player against Southampton and averages more tackles per 90 minutes than anyone else at the club. His one-on-one defense is solid, reflected in the fact that he has yet to be dribbled past in a City shirt.

Manchester City's Manuel Akanji gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England on Saturday Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Akanji’s versatility helped him impress at right-back against Southampton

There are other qualities. “With the ball he is a magnificent player. We have another weapon on set pieces, on long balls, how aggressive he is. With the ball he has composure. A big part of the package, it’s perfect. In addition to being an excellent person.”

It’s amazing that City were able to snap up a player of this caliber so late in the transfer window. How did the other clubs manage to miss it? “Look, in terms of signing players or not signing players, we all do good things and bad, bad things. You never know.”

Erling Haaland and Manuel Akanji reunited at Manchester City
Erling Haaland and Akanji have been reunited at Manchester City

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The consequences could be significant in the title race. A potential issue has been resolved. “Nathan and John, unfortunately sometimes they are not consistent to play every three days. I said for this season we need a striker and a central defender.”

No one doubted they had found the attacker. Now they know City have found both. “Manu has had a huge impact since his arrival. Once again the club have made an incredible signing with him. A real, real, real one and we are very happy about that, all of us,” Guardiola added.

“We are lucky to have him.”

Sky Sports

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