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Achraf Hakimi: A closer look at PSG’s new recruit

Achraf Hakimi, after one superb season with Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan, seems to be on the move already. After the Italian coach unexpectedly left the San Siro, a whole host of Inter’s players were linked with a move away from the club. Principally, it was Romelu Lukaku’s name plastered over the papers, but now that those fires have dwindled, the focus is on Hakimi and his seemingly imminent move to PSG.

Pochettino’s side has had to fend off interest from Chelsea in the race to sign the Moroccan, and perhaps a move to Paris would make more sense. Currently, at Stamford Bridge, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi are two players entirely capable of performing in that right wing-back role to a high level, but we can only presume that James would be moved to right centre-back as he was at the backend of the 2020/21 season, to facilitate Hakimi’s move. This scout report will analyse Hakimi’s suitability to Pochettino’s tactics and whether he would be a legitimate upgrade in that role.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at his role for Inter Milan under Antonio Conte, his strengths and weaknesses, and how he would fit in at PSG.

Player profile

At the age of six years old, Hakimi joined Club Deportivo Colonia Ofigevi, a community side based in the suburbs of Madrid, before being spotted by Real Madrid in 2006 and swiftly joining their academy, with Marcelo a player he idolised for much of his youth. He made his way through the youth setup, eventually featuring in the UEFA Youth League in the 2015/16 season, before plying his trade in the Spanish Third Division with Real Madrid Castilla a year later making 28 appearances. 

At the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Madrid’s medical staff noticed a heart problem with starting right-back Dani Carvajal, with Hakimi in reserve awaiting his chance – one man’s pain is another man’s profit. He made his La Liga debut aged 19 against Espanyol in October 2017, and soon enough he scored his first goal a couple of months later in a 5-0 battering of Sevilla. In these initial matches, he demonstrated great defensive nous and good positional awareness in attacking scenarios.

At 5’10” / 177cm, Hakimi is a rapid wing-back who remains strong in 1v1 duels due to his height and build. He got his breakout at Dortmund who operated a back three under Favre which allowed Hakimi to demonstrate his attacking capabilities in two seasons at Signal Iduna Park. This preceded a permanent move to Inter Milan, where he mixed creative responsibilities with an almost inside-forward-type thirst for goals cutting in from the right and shooting with his weaker left foot.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Achraf Hakimi’s player profile, created by the wonderful Sathish Prasad (@SathishPrasadVT on Twitter).

Fantastic final-third output

In an attacking sense, we saw quite a different Hakimi at Inter compared to the one we watched at Dortmund. His underlying metrics improved, but he matched his actual goals and assists contribution of 15 in the league, but while at Dortmund Hakimi focused largely on crossing and cutbacks, he has become a bit more dynamic this term, cutting inside with frequency and shooting more often. 

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Scatter plot of Serie A wing-backs xA per 90 compared with xG per 90.

This is not to say that cutbacks and crossing are not a large feature of his game – they certainly are. His xG per 90 went from 0.13 to 0.16 per 90 in the league, and his xA per 90 saw an even bigger step-up from 0.15 to 0.23 per 90. This improved his xG + xA from 0.27 to 0.38 per 90, which is a big improvement to make in just one season, transitioning into a new division. He had a barnstorming attacking season for a wing-back, and this was punctuated by a Scudetto trophy at the end of it.

His position and role in Conte’s 3-5-2 system enabled and facilitated Hakimi to engage so often in attacking scenarios. While at Dortmund, Hakimi had Sancho ahead of him to provide width for that side if needed, but at Inter, Hakimi was the sole out ball for their right flank, and he was needed in the final third to provide attacking impetus down the right. Pretty regularly, Hakimi would wait in a wide zone, entrenching on the defensive line of the opposition, waiting for the pass.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

On the attack versus Fiorentina, Hakimi makes the movement behind the defensive line.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

He collects the pass and has the capacity to drive towards the byline and find a target in the box with a pulled back cross. 

He might be allowed this level of freedom at Chelsea, although the three forwards ahead of him will want to play centrally (whether it be Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, etc, on the right). At PSG, he would form part of a back four and provide overlapping runs to support the likes of Ángel Di María and Pablo Sarabia down the right flank.

Nevertheless, either team he would join, it is likely that Hakimi would build upon some of the success he found at Inter when cutting inside from the right-wing and shooting with his ‘weaker’ left foot. From this weaker side, the Moroccan scored five of his seven Serie A goals, which just goes to show how much of a dynamic threat he can be if allowed the freedom in the final third to act as more of a winger.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Hakimi here receives the ball wide right and cuts inside into space.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

After gliding past a couple of opponents, Hakimi lets loose on a strike with his left foot into the bottom corner.

Yet, his most valuable attribute in the final third is his creativity, not his goalscoring. He can cross from deep with an upright body posture to find a forward at the back post, but these days that is usually the result of a short corner or throw-in rather than in natural play. Hakimi still looks to use his intelligent movement and blistering pace to get in behind the defence and play dangerous cutbacks into the area.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here against Juventus, we see Hakimi look to whip an early delivery towards Lukaku’s head, although he has several other options as well. 

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

As we saw plenty of times for Dortmund, Hakimi’s signature cutback has not gone amiss during his time at Inter, as seen in this example for Darmian. 

These creative weapons will be useful at PSG, but in a back three, the transition would be more seamless than at Chelsea, where he has to worry less about the space that he vacates behind him. Nevertheless, at PSG we can perhaps expect a good mix of those deeper lofted cross, and interchanging with the right-winger via quick one-twos to access the byline and hit driven cutbacks.

Brilliant ball-carrying

A skill that Hakimi demonstrated to a similar degree at Dortmund and Inter is his ball-carrying. It is an enjoyable side to his game that he ought to do even more often than he currently does. His 1v1 dribbling is not perfect, the ball can get caught in his feet on occasion and he can also run over the ball when dribbling, demonstrating an unnecessary overexuberance. However, his ball-carrying at its best comes from deep in the pitch, roaming up the flank in the transition.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Scatter plot of Serie A wing-backs progressive runs per 90 compared with dribbles 90.

He ranks above average for both of the listed metrics above, but this does not tell the full story. Although the volume is not the greatest in the division, the purpose of these progressive runs is great. Only Leonardo Spinazzola beats his 36 carries into the penalty area out of wing-backs in Serie A, and only the Italian again and Theo Hernández beat his 51 carries into the final third. His ball-carrying abilities are dangerous, it is only a shame he does not do this even more often.

The best examples of these carries start in Inter’s half and result in a goal for the side. Hakimi almost scored a wonderful solo goal versus Sampdoria which exemplified this masterfully. He won the ball back in the right-back position and took advantage of the opposition throwing men forward in attack to thrust forward down the right flank. Not many Inter teammates had caught track with him yet, leaving Hakimi to glide inside and release a cool, calm, and collected strike into the bottom left, saved by the ‘keeper. 

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Hakimi collected the ball inside his half, before driving up the pitch into a more central area.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

He navigates his way into a good shooting position, but with three Sampdoria defenders in front of him blocking off a shot to the bottom-right, he was forced to shoot near post, unsuccessfully. 

Hakimi does have a good dribble success rate at 64.35% while attempting a decent volume per 90 too at 3.67, but in 1v1 scenarios, he shows little ingenuity and especially struggles in tight spaces. Although Hakimi is a quick player, he does not have overly quick feet, and it can be easy to nip the ball from his feet if the 22-year-old tries any tricks. 

His best bet in dribbling scenarios is touch and go. Drag the opponent to one side, and flick to the other, the opponent will rarely catch Hakimi for pace, even when carrying the ball. This is part of what makes him so dangerous in the final third, defenders struggle to keep up with him in terms of straight-line speed. At PSG, Pochettino needs to encourage the Moroccan to get forward and make the most of his obliterating pace.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Just as we could potentially see at PSG, Hakimi here lays off the ball to a nearby teammate.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

He quickly makes the surging run off the ball to receive the through pass and from here he can produce a creative pass for Inter.

Overall, ball-carrying is an area where Hakimi can excel, we saw him rank 1st for progressive carries and 3rd for progressive carrying distance in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, a league that shares more similarities with the Premier League than Serie A does. Under Conte, Hakimi was encouraged less to carry the ball so far as to neglect his defensive duties, and the same could potentially happen under Pochettino if he sticks with a back four and has no one to cover that position.

Diligent defensive attitude

In defensive transitions, Conte has demanded that his defenders get behind the ball as soon as possible, and this is something that Hakimi has had to adapt to as the season has gone on. He has improved his defensive positioning since his time at Dortmund – he needed to – but his success in defensive duels also improved, which will only benefit any transition into a new team.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Scatter plot of Serie A wing-backs defensive duels 90 compared with defensive duels won %.

Above average for success rate and almost bang average for the volume of defensive duels is a marked improvement on his last season with Dortmund. When we compare the percentage of dribblers tackled last season compared to this season just gone, Hakimi went from 33.8% to 42.9%, which is even more impressive when you consider more of these defensive actions occurred higher up the pitch typically at Inter than they did at Dortmund.

From a defensive perspective, Hakimi is really adept at not conceding fouls. Although he tackles with intensity, he usually engages in defensive duels from a distance, opting to stretch a leg out to tackle the ball, rather than use his whole body to win the ball back. His 0.96 fouls per 90 is in the 38th percentile within Serie A wing-backs, which punctuates his tidy tackling technique. 

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Defending inside his penalty area, Hakimi leaves a gap between himself and the attacker.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

He goes towards the ball feet first to retrieve the ball, which he does so successfully here. 

He is also pressing higher than his time at Dortmund. He attempted 132 pressures in the attacking third for Dortmund in his last season there, compared to 147 for his time at Inter, in fewer minutes too. When the ball was passed out to the opposition left-back, Hakimi was typically the member who would push up and put pressure on the ball-carrier. 

Although Hakimi has improved in his defensive positioning, this aggressive style of defending can leave him lacking if the opposition bypasses his heavy pressure. If the opponent remains calm, it can become quite easy to complete a passing triangle around Hakimi to evade the pressure and instigate build-up down the left through the space vacated by Hakimi. 

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here, we can see the Sassuolo defender pass to a teammate deployed on the left of the midfield, with Hakimi switched on to his position.

Achraf Hakimi at PSG 2021/22 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Hakimi pressures the Sassuolo midfielder to pass backwards, restarting their build-up play.

In Inter’s half when defending, Hakimi has improved tremendously over the year and actually positions himself quite well in crossing scenarios, where he regularly intercepts the ball finding the far post. But it is an area that still requires improvement, knowing when and when not to push forward, anticipating a teammate to win the ball back so he can aid ball progression in the transition. 

Forecast for the future

At the time of writing, a deal to join PSG looks set, and Chelsea are likely to miss out. It is unclear if Chelsea made an official bid, but what is clear is that Hakimi wanted PSG over the European champions. He joins Gianluigi Donnarumma as the second summer acquisition over in Paris as they look to take revenge on Lille and reclaim the Ligue 1 title.

Looking at the deal from an objective, suitability perspective, Hakimi would do well to stay at Inter. He has found a club that actively encourages his positional freedom in the final third which he clearly enjoys and appreciates. However, it seems he wants to move, and of the two rumoured clubs, Chelsea would be the better fit. Almost simply because Chelsea operate with a back three and PSG do not, which gets the best out of Hakimi’s attacking threat, while he also hasn’t played in a back four since his Real Madrid days.