Friday night’s Man of the Match, Nathan Ake, is no overnight sensation. He’s long been a hugely underrated centre back but he’s now coming into his own as a utility defender and has barely put a foot wrong all season.
Universal recognition is finally his, and regular rave reviews are pouring in.
In a tight FA Cup 4th round tie against Arsenal, the only side who can stop City from charging to a fifth Premiership win in six seasons(and third in three), Ake made the difference – not only scoring the winning and only goal with refined skill but, even more importantly, shackling the brilliant Bukayo Saka, and reducing him to a bit part.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Pep said, ‘What a season he is playing. He controlled one of the toughest opponents in the Premier League because Saka is in an incredible moment.’
‘Ake is really good in the duels in the box, defending the far post and set pieces is an extra bonus. He is an exceptional guy, there was a period where he didn’t play and he never complained once.’
His versatility is indeed proving invaluable and the natural centre-back is now starring at left back where he has stepped in brilliantly for the out-of-form Cancelo, while new left-back signing Gomez has yet to deliver.
But it’s been a long, tough path at City where he’s largely been the left-sided backup for the steadfast Laporte.
It is often said that he replaced Otamendi in the squad but that’s not strictly accurate. Although Ake arrived just before Otamendi departed, Eric Garcia and occasionally Fernandinho were already keeping Otamendi on the bench before the mix became four centre-backs for two slots: Stones and Dias, right-sided, and Laporte and Ake, left-sided.
Early season injuries to Stones, Dias and Laporte sent City scurrying for extra cover and in came Akanji seemingly making Ake’s chance of establishing himself as a regular even tougher when all five centre-backs were fit(sadly, very rarely!) but he’s taken his chances brilliantly this season, and has become one of the first names on the team sheet.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy who has steadily become one of Pep’s most trusted.