Pep Guardiola may have to rethink Manuel Akanji plan amid fixture uncertainty
Manuel Akanji impressed on his Manchester City debut vs Sevilla in the Champions League.
It’s a good problem to have, yet Pep Guardiola’s plans for his Manchester City centre-backs may have to be re-written this week.
With Aymeric Laporte injured for another few weeks, John Stones out for the trip to Sevilla last week, and Nathan Ake only fit enough for the bench, it was down to Manuel Akanji to step in on his debut in Spain alongside Ruben Dias. Akanji stood out, bringing the ball out from the back impressively and producing some good interceptions to draw praise from his manager post-match.
Before the game, though, Guardiola had suggested that Ake would return for City’s scheduled fixture with Tottenham on Saturday, rotating his central options to keep everyone as fit as possible.
Now, though, the Spurs game has been postponed as the Premier League pays respects to the Queen by rearranging this weekend’s fixtures to a later date. The fixture at Wolves next weekend could also be affected if the Queen’s funeral takes place, although the Champions League visit of Borussia Dortmund will be unaffected.
So will Guardiola stick with his plan to bring in Ake, who will have another few days of recovery from his injury, or will he stick with Akanji for another European game against a side he’s just left? Given the frequent mentions of Akanji’s European experience, and his knowledge of Dortmund’s side more than any of his new colleagues, it would make sense to keep him in the side.
Although that would be harsh on Ake, who’s been good whenever he’s played this season. And when giving an assessment on the injury that kept Stones out of the Sevilla trip, Guardiola suggested he could be back this week. City could go from two centre-back options in Seville to four against Dortmund.
It will be a test of Guardiola’s squad management to see how he manages his centre-backs in the next week before the international break, especially with uncertainty surrounding the Wolves game. He could always move Stones or Ake to full-back if Kyle Walker is still out, but he will also be aware of keeping his word to Ake while also rewarding Akanji for his impressive debut.
Whoever starts against Dortmund, though, it’s a positive problem to have with key players returning and others in form. With the Spurs postponement adding to the fixture congestion later down the line, Guardiola will need as many bodies as he can get, and plenty of competitiveness from those not playing.