Manchester City signed Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for £41 million after Bournemouth were relegated from the Premier League at the end of 2019/20 season. City finished 18 points behind Liverpool, losing nine games, which was their worst record since Pep Guardiola was appointed as manager in 2016/17. Several of those losses & dropped points can be attributed to City’s struggle to find a settled back line during the course of the season. First choice centre-back Ayermic Laporte was injured and was ruled out for a major part of the season and Pep was struggling to find his first choice centre-back pairing with even central defensive midfielders Rodri & Fernandinho pairing there against Crystal Palace. Benjamin Mendy has struggled for game time because of injuries. Since signing for City from Monaco, the left-back has made only 36 league appearances in three seasons. In spite of all these struggles, only the champions Liverpool conceded fewer goals than City, but we all know that City did not have the defensive dominance that they had during their successive title winning seasons. Can Nathan Ake bring this defensive dominance back to City?
Pep Guardiola needs his defenders and goalkeepers, especially center-backs, to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. How good is Ake when you compare him with the other City centre-backs in this department?
Ake’s short/medium passing is well behind his new teammates. This is also because City have more possession than a team like Bournemouth. In fact, City have seven players in the top 10 for most short/medium passes per 90 by defenders. That is the level that is required of a defender playing under Guardiola. Ake is, in fact, behind all City defenders for most of the passing metrics, but again, there is a huge difference in quality between his previous team and current team. When it comes to passing accuracy, his quality of passing can be trusted. Ake ranks among the very best among center-backs with ~90% passing accuracy. He also ranks top 10 for progressive passing accuracy among center-backs who have played at least 900 minutes. This can be very useful when he is deployed as left-back.
Verdict: Good, can be better
When it comes to defending, Nathan Ake is close competition to the current Manchester City defenders. Nathan Ake has made more successful defensive actions than any other City defender. It has to be said, Ake isn’t the league’s best for some of the metrics, but he will surely be an improvement on City’s current backline. He also brings some added versatility with him, in that he can also fill in at left-back, which has been a problem position for City for quite some time now. Ake has won ~70% of his defensive duels, which again is among the very best left sided centre backs in the league. Below is a visualisation showing where Ake ranks when compared with the other City defenders for various defensive metrics.
Verdict: Better, can be best
Note: Kyle Walker & Joao Cancelo were left out for both the comparisons as they have primarily played at the right-back position.
The expectation right now is that Ake will not be a regular starter for Manchester City and the player has been brought in to strengthen the bench. Given that City have a better player in Laporte for the left-sided center-back position, that expectation is fair. It will be interesting to see if Ake is preferred for the left-back position. You can never guarantee anything with Pep Guardiola. One cannot be surprised if Ake is occasionally used in a CDM role as well, where he started a few games for Bournemouth in the past. Ake has long been tipped to take the next step in his career, which was to move to a top club. Having done that now, the next step is to establish himself among the very best in the league. He has chosen the right environment to do that, but if he will be able to survive the pressure is a question for another time.