When Manchester City brought Manuel Akanji to the Etihad Stadium at the beginning of the season, it seemed like bringing in just another rotation player to have on the bench for squad depth. The deal just made sense as the 27-year-old was a seasoned international with Switzerland and had played for a several years with Borussia Dortmund in the German top flight.
With European competition experience under his belt as well, no one could say that €15 million was a huge splash. Even if he turned out to be just an option to bring on when players got injured, it would be money well spent.
Instead, the player has turned into a mainstay in the team. From the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and even the League Cup, Akanji has played in all. The manager suddenly can’t do without him. He has been key to the team’s progress in all the three main competitions City are fighting to win this term.
And if Erling Haaland has been the surprise of the season, blowing away records in the English game despite initial scepticism surrounding his ability to adapt to both Manchester City’s style of play and Premier League football, then Akanji has been the bargain of the season.
The 27-year-old has truly become Pep Guardiola’s Mr. Reliable. In central defence, at right-back or left-back, the Swiss international just delivers. In fact, the way he is playing puts any other player in that position under threat of losing it.
After a composed performance for Bayern Munich to help City get past the German giants, the manager was convinced he was the right choice for left back this time around against Arsenal. Missing Nathan Ake through injury, there was concern regarding how the team would cope against the Arsenal danger man.
But Akanji rose to the occasion and kept the English winger quiet all game. He has been one of the best defenders in the League this season and a reliable tool in the manager’s hands to prosecute even the most difficult games.
While all attention has been focused on Erling Haaland as a result of his goal-scoring prowess, Akanji has been quietly making sure that the team maintains the solidity required to accomplish its goals.
Choosing to play the former Borussia Dortmund man out of his comfort zone even when Aymeric Laporte (who could be considered better suited for the position) was on the bench shows just how much faith Guardiola now places on the player. His performance in the game convinced the manager even more that he made the right decision.
It’s safe to say that he is now one of the key players in the team that the manager will not consider dropping heading into the final stretch of the season.
For a club that has often been criticised for throwing money at players to build a competitive team, the likes Akanji and Julian Alvarez are a breath of fresh air. It shows City can also win at the bargain buy game.