Xtra Analysis: Everything you need to know about Man City's latest recruit - Nathan Ake
Within just two weeks of the transfer window officially opening, Manchester City secured their second signing of the summer with the acquisition of Dutch international Nathan Ake. Ake joins the club for a reported fee of £41 million from Bournemouth, and whilst the fee is considerably large for a player who spent the past year fighting relegation, many believe that is it is money well spent. Following the transfer’s official confirmation, we take an in-depth look into what the new arrival brings to the Manchester City squad.
Following a rather disappointing league campaign which saw City trail Liverpool by 18 points at the season’s culmination, the club found themselves desperately in need of a defensive revamp. City conceded a disappointing 35 goals throughout the season - almost a goal per game, and recognising the squad’s obvious defensive frailties, the club have acted quickly to secure the Dutchman’s signature ahead of their Premier League rivals.
The injury suffered by Aymeric Laporte last August led to him spending most of the season on the sidelines, and, Laporte’s absence immediately revealed severe cracks in the City defence. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones’ fluctuating form was a key reason for the club's poor league campaign, and their unreliability has led them to set their sights on an accomplished centre-half who can provide reliable back-up for Laporte whilst also realistically pushing for a starting berth.
Enter: Nathan Ake.
City’s poor defensive showing in comparison to the two years prior has resulted in the latest defensive revamp, yet whilst Aymeric Laporte is one of the world’s best defenders, City’s other options at centre-half have been less than stellar performers.
The current first-team options consist of Eric Garcia, a promising youngster likely to return to Catalonia in the near future, the veteran Fernandinho – a club legend but a stand-in at centre-back, the unpredictable Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones – the quintessential confidence player who has been confidence-shy for over a year.
This being the case, Pep and Co. have deemed that a defensive overhaul is necessary should Manchester City wish to stand a chance of regaining the league title. Defensive outgoings are certain, and the club are targeting a left-back, and a quality right-sided centre-half to consistently partner Laporte. However, City’s first defensive recruit has been Nathan Ake - an experienced and versatile, left-sided defender.
Born in the Hague, Netherlands, Nathan Ake spent much of his early career in the south of his homeland at clubs such as ADO Den Haag and Feyenoord, before being brought to England by Chelsea in 2011 at the age of 16. A now fully-fledged international, Ake has been capped 13 times at senior level and has also represented his country 68 times at youth level.
Whilst at Chelsea, Ake was afforded few first-team opportunities and played just seven Premier League games whilst at Stamford Bridge, each of which came in-between being shipped out on loan to the likes of Reading, Watford and Bournemouth. Ake finally settled in 2017, when the latter purchased the Dutchman for £20 million following an impressive loan spell.
Throughout his time on the south coast, Ake showed himself to be a versatile and technically adept centre-half able to operate at both left-back and defensive-midfield, as well as his preferred position of centre-back, and it is his technical ability, versatility and consistency which prompted Manchester City to part with £41 million to secure his services.
The acquisition of at least two solid centre-halves has been deemed vital should the club wish to regain the Premier League title, and the signing of Ake will go a long way towards Manchester City re-establishing their dominance in English football. With the club once again aiming to win every available competition, strength in depth is integral in achieving this, and the signing of the Dutchman will surely assist with the club’s ambitions in the coming years.
What about his defending?!
The consensus amongst the Manchester City faithful is that Ake has been brought in simply because he’s better than most of the club's current defensive options, and given that at least one of, if not both John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are likely to depart the club soon, this appears to be an accurate trail of thought. Ake’s stats support the notion that he is defensively superior to both Stones and Otamendi. Throughout the 2019/20 season, Ake averaged 1.1 tackles per game, 1.2 interceptions per game and one block per game - all of which surmount Stones' numbers, whilst Otamendi only betters Ake on average tackles per game.
Although the 25-year-old has spent most of his playing career in the heart of the defence, it should be noted that the Dutchman is a versatile defender capable of playing at both left-back and defensive-midfield. The acquisition of Ake will not only offer Guardiola the opportunity to rest the all-important Aymeric Laporte should it be deemed necessary, but his versatility will allow the boss to position either Laporte or Ake at left-back, with the other at centre-back, without it being wholly detrimental to the back-line, thanks to the solidity that Ake is capable of providing.
Another key asset that Ake possesses is his pace. For a centre-back, Ake is uncharacteristically quick and his ability to accelerate could prove useful to Manchester City due to the high-line that they often flaunt. In recent years, Pep Guardiola's side have often found themselves susceptible to counter-attacks and Ake’s considerable pace would help to negate this frailty.
Throughout this time at Bournemouth, Ake developed a reputation for being a defender with an excellent work ethic with a willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. Ake’s last action in the Cherries' shirt was to block a bound-for-goal shot by Jamie Vardy to prevent Bournemouth from falling 2-0 behind. Ake injured himself in the process and hobbled off the field shortly after, however, the Cherries were able to recover and memorably recorded a 4-1 victory over Leicester City.
Along with being a great tackler, over the years, Ake has displayed his ability as an exceptional reader of the game and this often allows him to quell dangerous situations before the attacking team are afforded a sight of goal. Ake’s defensive awareness and intelligent style of play are key reasons as to why Manchester City have opted to sign the Dutch international, as he should be able to restore some much needed composure to the back-line.
Despite his plethora of positive traits, an often-touted weakness of Ake’s is his limited ability in the air. The Dutchman stands at 5’11” - a comparatively short height for a centre-half in the modern game, yet whilst his springiness helps somewhat to negate this shortcoming, Ake has consistently hovered around a 50-55% aerial duel success rate throughout his time at Bournemouth. To highlight the importance of this deficiency, Fernandinho, who is two inches shorter and 10 years Ake’s senior, recorded a superior aerial duel success rate of 60.97%, suggesting that Ake should work to improve this aspect of his game.
Ake’s aerial susceptibility is a cause for concern, as he is likely to be targeted by teams which favour a direct approach and utilise an aerially dominant striker such as Sebastian Haller or Oliver McBurnie. However, when disregarding his supposed aerial frailties, Ake remains a fantastic defender and is certainly a marked improvement on Stones and Co.
It's all about the ball-playing
During his time at Bournemouth, Nathan Ake often stood out amongst the Bournemouth defenders due to his superior ball-playing ability and composure when playing the ball out of defence, and it is this technical astuteness that prompted the City hierarchy to pursue his signature.
City have invested in Ake with the assumption that his skill-set would work well in Guardiola’s possession-based system. As he has often demonstrated, Ake is more than comfortable in possession and has often exhibited his ability to play the ball quickly and accurately under pressure. Ake is capable of accurately picking out a pass from distance and often looks to play the ball forward when possible.
In the 2019/20 campaign, Ake averaged an impressive 87.6% pass success rate - a stat bettered by just seven Premier League centre-halves - 1.8 long balls per game, and 41.7 passes per game. Whilst on the face of it, the latter is not particularly impressive, it should be stated that Ake’s passing volume is wholly representative of the side and system that he was playing in at Bournemouth.
For reference, fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk averaged just 46.7 passes per game with an 84.2% pass success rate in his final full season at Southampton, yet last season Van Dijk averaged 86.8 passes per game - almost twice what he was averaging at Southampton. As Ake is making a similar step-up in quality and is statistically similar in this regard, it is reasonable to assume that the Dutchman will be able to meet Manchester City’s expectations regarding his progression, and be comfortable with the inevitable increased involvement in possession.
In the last campaign, Ake recorded a considerably high average of 5.1 clearances per game - a stat indicative of Bournemouth habitually setting up camp in their box. However, the stat also shows his willingness and ability to clear the ball when in doubt, as opposed to intricately playing the ball out as has become commonplace throughout Pep’s tenure. Whilst this can be perceived as a negative, this stat in conjunction with Ake’s high pass success rate discloses Ake’s footballing intellect, and shows that he would be comfortable at precisely playing the ball out when under pressure, as is the Guardiola way - but also that the Dutchman would not hesitate to clear the ball when deemed necessary.
An attacking threat
In his three years at Bournemouth, Nathan Ake has established a reputation as a threat from set-pieces due to his habit of scoring late winners - most notably his stoppage-time winner against Tottenham back in May, 2019.
Whilst it would be a stretch to refer to the Dutchman as an aerial threat per se, in the 2019/20 campaign, Ake made four goal contributions (twice scoring and twice assisting), thus besting the three goal contributions amassed by Manchester City’s four recognised centre-backs.
Last season, City took a league-high 298 corners – almost eight per game, and 41 more than next highest Liverpool, yet very few corners lead to a goal. Manchester City’s impotency from corners has almost become a running joke on matchdays at the Etihad, and hopefully, Ake will be able to help Pep Guardiola's side find the back of the net from corners on a more regular basis.
Why Nathan Ake will be a success
On-paper, Nathan Ake is the archetype Guardiola centre-half - defensively astute, technically proficient, fast, and a natural leader. By all accounts, his professionalism and attitude are exemplary, and following his departure, he has been hailed by some as being Bournemouth’s best ever player.
Often characterised as humble, and with a hunger for success, Nathan Ake will be allowed the opportunity to properly excel at a big club for the first time. Following years of honing his craft at Bournemouth, the Dutchman certainly has the tools to succeed in Manchester, but only time will tell whether he seizes the opportunity.
With the signing of Nathan Ake, Manchester City have acquired a hard-working, technically adept, and capable defender of international quality, who on-paper should work well within the existing set-up. Ake also possesses the much-desired leadership qualities that City have missed since Vincent Kompany’s departure.
Following Vincent Kompany’s departure last summer, City have lacked an aura of leadership in the locker room, and the signing of Nathan Ake may help to plug this void. Whilst he is of course not a leader in the mould of Kompany, nor a like-for-like replacement, Ake was a figurehead at Bournemouth who captained the Cherries on several occasions, and his leadership experience could be akin to Fabian Delph’s positive off-the-pitch contributions during his time at the club.
Pep Guardiola will be looking to ensure that his Manchester City side are strong enough to wrestle the Premier League crown away from Liverpool, and he would not have recruited Ake if he believed that the Dutchman was anything less than the high-standard that he demands of his players. Pep hopes to win his third league title in four years whilst also aiming to triumph in all other competitions, and to achieve this, strength in depth is key, which is why Ake will be vital going forward.
Through joining Manchester City, Nathan Ake will have the opportunity to elevate his game to the next level as day-in and day-out, he will work alongside world-class players under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola and his backroom staff. Nathan Ake could very well improve and progress as a professional and hopefully, he will be an asset at Manchester City for years to come.
For more information on Nathan Ake and how he will fit into the Manchester City system over the coming years, check out our YouTube reaction BELOW:
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