It’s no secret that the 2019/20 league campaign didn’t quite go to plan for Pep Guardiola.
However, the Manchester City manager can at least now ‘proudly’ boast having made the most changes to a Premier League starting XI in one season – with his 143 surpassing the 140 made by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2008/09.
While much of the former Barcelona boss’ tinkering was driven by squad rotation and tactical changes, the same can’t be said for the bulk of the alterations made to his centre back pairing.
With John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi struggling to hold down regular places in the City first team, Guardiola has resorted to a number of different options, with 19-year-old Eric Garcia featuring alongside Aymeric Laporte, and midfield linchpins Rodri and Fernandinho even tasked with filling in.
The signing of Nathan Aké from relegated Bournemouth is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for City, as they look to shore up defensively and regain the Premier League title.
But just how does the Netherlands international compare to City’s current options?
First of all, it’s key to note that as a defender in a side that routinely conceded around 65 league goals a season, Aké’s stats at Bournemouth were vastly inflated when compared to City’s defenders.
For example, to suggest that the Dutchman’s 469 duels won since 2017/18 compared to Laporte’s 226 make him just over twice as good as the Frenchman would be ludicrous. So, let’s put stats and figures aside and revert to good old ‘pub-speak’.
Aké is likely to be vying for a spot alongside Laporte should he break into the first team, with the former Athletic Club man a mainstay in Guardiola’s backline.
Of the three natural, senior centre backs the former Bournemouth man will be competing against – Stones, Otamendi and Garcia – each have their own qualities and flaws.
One of the traits which no doubt attracted Guardiola to Aké is his ball-playing quality. The former Chelsea man initially arrived at the Vitality Stadium as a midfielder, so his ability on the ball is very impressive.
When compared to City’s other options, the Dutchman is undoubtedly more composed than Otamendi and the at times comical Stones, though Garcia has shown shoots of quality since his first-team baptism.
Another of Aké’s best traits is his speed across the ground. The 25-year-old possesses a good turn of pace combined with excellent acceleration, and his arrival will add some much-needed pace to a cumbersome backline.
At just 5’11 the 25-year-old is below average height for a Premier League centre back, but both Otamendi and Garcia are of similar height, while Stones stands at around 6’2. With City lacking height in a number of other areas of the squad, Guardiola may be tempted to yet again add to his defensive options.
Unfortunately, the former Bournemouth man’s progression at the Etihad may well be hampered by the fact both he and Laporte are left-footed – unlike any of the aforementioned trio.
Guardiola has openly admitted he prefers the balance of a left and a right-footed centre-back pairing, yet the former Bayern Munich boss’ reasoning for this preference has nothing to do with defending.
He was quoted as saying this was because a centre back finds it more comfortable to launch attacks when opening up their body onto their stronger foot – and this poses a further question.
City scored 17 goals more than champions Liverpool last campaign, meaning it was defensive frailties which cost them their title – not their ability going forward – so do City really need to place such emphasis on ensuring their defenders are the right men to launch attacks?
Maybe it’s time for Guardiola to abandon his all-out-attacking philosophy and concentrate more on ensuring his side are solid at the back.
If he does, then two left-footed centre backs may not be such an issue, and Aké could have a future in the City starting XI.