Nathan Ake has played a key role in Man City quest for Premier League and Champions League glory
Nathan Ake admitted himself that his debut season for Manchester City was far from ideal.
The defender played just 13 games amid a campaign plagued with injury – not what he had envisaged when he arrived from Bournemouth in 2020. This time around, he has almost doubled his appearance tally already and has not picked up a single knock. What is most impressive about this is the mental toughness of Ake.
Quality players can wilt when transitioning to a mega-club in itself, never mind having to deal with hamstring injuries and crumbs of game-time. Tragically, the 27-year-old mourned the passing of his father in September, who died shortly after his son netted his first Champions League goal against RB Leipzig.
Understandably, the player admitted it was “a difficult time” for him and his family. Ake had not played since the opening game of the Premier League before that Leipzig match but would go on to keep a clean sheet against Southampton three days later.
In fact, he kept a clean sheet in three of the next four league matches he featured in afterwards, which set up a memorable second half of the season. Ake has largely played a bit part role in Pep Guardiola’s plans but he has been of crucial importance since the beginning of 2022.
The Netherlands international produced a sensational goalline clearance from an ill-judged Aymeric Laporte defensive header that evaded the onrushing Ederson in the New Year’s Day match with Arsenal, harnessing the spirit of John Stones against Liverpool in 2019.
A last-gasp Rodri strike eventually won the game for City against the Gunners, elevating the importance of Ake’s crucial clearance. “I could see it happening a little bit because those moments are always awkward and difficult to defend,” he told mancity.com, describing the incident. “I was just trying to see if the worst case scenario might happen.
“Luckily I just managed to get there in time and luckily we ended up winning the game.” His game-saving intervention means City are still ahead of title challengers Liverpool by a point.
Not only has he produced the goods when called upon in the domestic game, he’s also shown his class in Europe. Ake made appearances at left-back in both legs of City’s Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.
He was targeted by the Spanish side as a potential weak spot in the backline, particularly in the first leg with the ex-Chelsea man having to monitor the eager Antoine Griezmann. But he kept his cool and stewarded his side to two clean sheets across the tie.
Amid injuries to a number of defenders this season, Ake has been an astute fill-in. He was benched for Tuesday’s semi-final tie with Real Madrid, which would have come as a disappointment but not a shock after failing to play a full 90 minutes against Brighton or Watford.
The former Bournemouth man knows what role he must play for City for now. He may well not feature in the Champions League again this season but his professionalism might have just helped City to their first Champions League crown.
His ambition will be to stake a regular place in the side, but even if that never comes to fruition, the more attentive City supporters won’t forget the role he played if their club do end up lifting both the Premier League and the Champions League.