Nathan Ake has just made Man City’s transfer conundrum easier – Joe Bray
Manchester City have promised more summer transfer arrivals after Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez, but some may have to leave to accommodate any more signings.
City’s squad stands at 21 after those two striker signings, plus a talented group of youngsters from the academy. Pep Guardiola opted for a smaller squad than previous years for 2021/22, and got the competitive atmosphere he desired with two or three players capable of playing in each position.
Maybe the thinnest options have come at left-back, however, with no natural option to nail down the spot. Joao Cancelo has proven to be world class on that side, but is the first choice when Kyle Walker has been missing on the right. Behind him, Aleks Zinchenko and Nathan Ake have shared responsibility, but both would prefer to be playing in other positions.
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Both Ake and Zinchenko stepped up in the run-in as City won the Premier League while other defenders were injured. They proved to Guardiola they still have a role to play at City, but also showed potential suitors that they would be worthwhile summer signings if regular football can be offered.
City fans are keen not to lose Zinchenko, who has shown his quality on and off the pitch every season, but it’s understandable that he would be in demand — and also that he would want assurances of regular football.
The same goes with Ake, who has waited patiently for his chance in his two years at the Etihad, showing improvements year on year. However, while Zinchenko has a clear path to the left-back spot — especially if Kyle Walker departs on the right in the coming years — then Ake’s first team prospects are harder to plot.
He is firmly behind Ruben Dias, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for a centre-back spot, so if all are fit, he is limited to cup games or ‘lesser’ Premier League games. If Cancelo or Zinchenko were unavailable, Ake would probably be third choice on the left, leaving him in the awkward position of relying on others to be absent to get a game. Of Ake’s 40 appearances for City, 10 have come at left-back rather than the centre.
So it’s refreshing to hear Ake say he wants to knuckle down and force his way into a position where he can be starting regularly in his third season.
“I will go into the season with that intention,” he said. “I will do everything I can to play even more.”
If Ake is determined to make the grade at City, rather than leave for regular games somewhere else, it could help City take the time to find a perfect new full-back. With Zinchenko’s future uncertain, Ake can provide reliable left-back cover and minimise the need to rush into a transfer this summer.
Guardiola always wants competition and players keen to fight for their place. If Ake is up for that challenge, it could make the defence as strong as a new signing, and give City more time to find their perfect long-term left-back.