The reality of the World Cup is that it ends in heartbreak for every team but one. Even if your squad plays well, all it takes is a little bit of bad luck for your tournament to be over in an instant.
Manuel Akanji now knows how that feels. Switzerland’s World Cup came to an end in the Round-of-16 when they fell 1-0 to Sweden. The only goal was scored by Emil Forsberg, and it found its place in the back of the net in large part due to a deflection off Akanji’s right foot.
Respect.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 3, 2018
Swedish players console Akanji, whose deflection ended up being the difference in the game. pic.twitter.com/r5rwuIsB6r
The result was incredibly harsh on Switzerland and on Akanji. The 22-year-old was understandably distressed after the final whistle, but he can’t be faulted for the Swiss exit in Russia.
In fact, Akanji was one of the best Swiss players at the tournament. Dortmund’s young CB played every minute for the “Nati”, including impressive performances in their win over Serbia and their draw with Brazil.
Now he will take on what is arguably an even bigger challenge: fixing Dortmund’s porous defense.
Akanji joined the club mid-season, so his impact on the last campaign was always going to be muted. For the most part he played as Dortmund played. When the squad was poor (Bayern away, Hoffenheim away), he was poor.
But last season was a lost cause, especially towards the end when the team almost lost their spot in the Champions League. The past few years have taught us that stability can’t be assumed with this club, but things should be less hectic this coming season.
The chaos wasn’t just off the pitch. Some of Dortmund’s defensive issues can be laid at the feet of Sokratis, who had a down year. His struggles were particularly costly as he was expected to be the leader of the defense. When he crumbled it caused other players around him to do the same.
Akanji will now form a partnership with Ömer Toprak, and there are already signs that this center-back pairing can be successful. The two played side by side in BVB’s 4-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen at the end of April. They worked well together in what was the last good performance that Peter Stoger got out of the team.
This will effectively be Manuel’s debut season with Dortmund, but he has already been eased into the club. The experience, both good and bad, that he gathered after joining will help him in the coming campaign. The soon-to-be 23-year-old is ready to fulfill his lofty potential.
Akanji being an everyday starter will provide stability on the team-sheet, but also on the pitch. He is a very strong passer for a center-back, and his ability to hold onto the ball while dribbling means that he shouldn’t be too prone to turnovers. Those costly giveaways hurt BVB on countless occasions last year. There should be a noticeable improvement on that front now that Akanji is in the mix.
If he can continue to grow and improve as a player then Akanji could bring something to the team that they really haven’t had since Mats Hummels left. He can be the CB who opens a defense with a single long ball, but also the CB who keeps things sane on the defensive side of things.
After all, that’s what Dortmund need the most. They need a return to sanity after the last few years of craziness.