Bundesliga: Is Borussia Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi already the Bundesliga’s best full-back?
By The Atlas Lions, Oct 31 2018 09:08PM
(Bundesliga.com) Aged just 19 years old, Achraf Hakimi has made an immediate impact in his career at Borussia Dortmund, having already shown that he can shine in a team that now sits three points clear at the top of the table.
The Real Madrid loanee, Bundesliga Rookie of the Month for September, has been involved in a goal every 90 minutes from right-back, assisting two after scoring one on his debut. He followed that up with a stunning hat-trick of assists in the remarkable 4-0 UEFA Champions League win over Atletico Madrid. So who is this new player that has announced his arrival with a bang?
As Dortmund coach, Lucien Favre opted for the experience of veteran Lukasz Piszczek for the opening matches of the season; Hakimi had to wait patiently until Matchday 5 to make his first appearance for his new club. When newly promoted Nuremberg made the trip to the Signal Iduna Park at the end of September, the Swiss tactician rested the Polish right-back in favour of the young Morocco international.
Favre’s faith was repaid handsomely in the 49th minute when Hakimi collected a cross-field pass from captain Marco Reus and slotted the ball neatly into the bottom right corner. His first goal from his first shot in his first match opened the floodgates as Dortmund ran riot in a 7-0 rout.
"He played very well," Favre admitted. "You can tell that he likes to get forward. He's very young, only 19, but he's worked very well. He's quick, a talented dribbler and comfortable with one-on-ones. He has a big future ahead of him and a huge amount of untapped potential."
Hakimi has played every Bundesliga minute since. He has provided more than adequate cover at right-back when Piszczek was sidelined by muscle complaints. In wins over Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg, Hakimi played the role of creator for Paco Alcacer and Mario Götze, respectively. When Piszczek returned to the starting line-up, rather than dropping to the bench, the new signing demonstrated his versatility and swapped flanks to take up the left-back berth.
Such flexibility will come as no surprise to any who paid attention to the young footballer’s career prior to his arrival in Germany. Born in Madrid to Moroccan parents, Hakimi put pen to paper in summer 2018 on a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid after playing every minute, at left-back, for Morocco at the World Cup in Russia. While his signing may have got lost among the Axel Witsel, Abdou Diallo, and Thomas Delaney-shaped influx of talent at BVB, Dortmund hailed Hakimi as “a young, very dynamic full-back who has played at the highest level.”
That dynamism has shone through in performances at right-back; in his three appearances in the position, Hakimi has made a league-leading 32 sprints per 90 minutes and achieved an impressive top speed of 21.5 miles per hour. He has additionally demonstrated a willingness to get involved in the play, making an average of 99.3 touches per match, second only to Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich in the position (103.9). His more experienced Dortmund colleague Piszczek has come close to Hakimi’s top speed, reaching 21.1 mph in 30.5 sprints himself, but only gets on the ball an average of 79 times per 90 minutes.
Perhaps most impressive are the numbers Hakimi has put up as an attacking threat. In his three Bundesliga appearances at right-back, the Moroccan has been involved in three goals, the most of any player in his position, despite having played the fewest minutes (270).
And what to say about his sensational Champions League outing against Atletico? It wasn't Hakimi's debut in the competition - he played both group games for Real against Tottenham last term - but this performance was on another level, as the young international set up Witsel, Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho on his way to a hat-trick of assists. His efforts will have delighted Favre, and no doubt raised a smile or two back at his parent club.
"Achraf is extremely important out wide, in the way he runs up and down the touchline," Reus declared. "It helps us a lot. He's very quick, and we needed that today, he played really well. The young players are enjoying themselves and we have enough experienced players as well. There's a very good mix in the team."
"Most of the time, Juanfran didn't know where he was," added former Bayern midfielder Dietmar Hamann, now a pundit for Sky Germany. "He was simply too quick and too good for him today."
When setting up goals, his favoured weapon is his right boot, which he uses to deliver inch-perfect crosses to teammates waiting in the box. While he may only be 19, Hakimi’s statistics also show a footballing intelligence and composure more common among old hands; with a pass completion rate of 90.5 per cent, only Kimmich again posts better numbers (90.8 per cent).
However, a further look into the figures shows that the Moroccan still has room for improvement. While he doesn’t shy away from a tackle, Hakimi has emerged the victor in only 42.9 per cent of the duels he has contested. In the air, this figure drops to zero. In comparison, the assurance provided by an experienced player like Piszczek becomes apparent. The Polish defender has been successful with 56.2 per cent of his tackles, and won over 60 per cent of his aerial duels. Additionally, he covers more ground per 90 minutes (7.03 miles on average) than his younger teammate (6.66 miles on average).
Nevertheless, for a player not even out of his teenage years, and yet to reach double-digit appearances in the league, Hakimi has hit the ground running and can stake a strong claim to be considered the top right-back of the 2018/2019 Bundesliga season. Come the end of his two-year loan deal in June 2020, Dortmund might be champing at the bit for the chance to make their emerging star a permanent fixture at the Signal Iduna Park.