Nathan Ake progress at Man City brings January transfer problem

Manchester City's Nathan Ake during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at Etihad Stadium on September 15, 2021 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Manchester City's first Carabao Cup defeat in five years robbed Nathan Ake of the chance of another midweek start, yet there is no denying the defender's improved presence at the Etihad.

Having made it his ambition to become a first team regular, too often in his first year since a £40m move from Bournemouth the defender was nowhere to be seen. A Boxing Day appearance at left-back against Newcastle — a seventh of the campaign — in what Pep Guardiola described as the best performance of the season so far looked like a perfect launchpad, only for the 26-year-old to suffer an injury that would see him sidelined until April.

A year on from that false dawn, things are looking much better. Riyad Mahrez and Ruben Dias are the only two players to have made more matchday squads than him (neither have missed one), with the only absence Ake has clocked up so far being the Carabao Cup game with Wycombe where he was allowed compassionate leave following the death of his father.

That has not necessarily translated to appearances, where the Dutch defender is still fourth choice as a centre-back.

There is no getting past Dias and his level, Aymeric Laporte has stepped up this season and John Stones still has credit in the bank from his performances last year.

Despite that, Ake has chipped in more often than not on the seven occasions he has started this season and his attitude through the week has left Guardiola keen to get him on the pitch when he can, most recently in the thrashing of Leeds where he came off the bench to score the seventh goal; the manager mused that his impressive display starting away at Aston Villa at the beginning of the month could have been karma for the way he handles not being in the team.

Guardiola values Ake, and has been grateful to be able to call on him so much more this season due to improved fitness.

At the same time, the more presence he has at the Etihad, the more he will be noticed outside of it. And a reputation as a very good centre-back without injury worries that isn't playing every week ticks many boxes of the clubs looking to secure some January business.

City's strength at centre-back is challenging to be the best it has been under Guardiola — a far cry from the shambles in 2019 when Vincent Kompany left and Laporte got injured — and the club will be in no room to disrupt that as they push for success in multiple competitions again.

As their attitude to Torres showed though, if a player knocks on the manager's door asking to leave and has an offer on the table that the club find acceptable, they will not stand in their way.

Ake can expect to play some part for City over the busy Christmas period as a reliable member of the squad, but he could also receive interest from others as the January window ticks open. The more the defender takes the opportunities he is given, the more often more may come up elsewhere.

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