COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
While fans of Borussia Dortmund were settling into their seats at the Signal Iduna Park before their side played host to Hoffenheim this weekend, the continued inclusion of the so-far impressive Achraf Hakimi at the expense of long-serving Marcel Schmelzer was noteworthy.
The 20-year-old has typified Lucien Favre’s desire to build around a budding core of players, and the Real Madrid loanee was the second-youngest in BVB’s starting line-up (two years older than 18-year-old Jadon Sancho) for their encounter with Julian Nagelsmann’s free-scoring side.
For 74 minutes it seemed like Favre’s side would record their 16th league win of the campaign, having raced into a three-goal advantage. That was before the home side threw away their seemingly unassailable advantage in the final quarter of the game.
Blame it on Hakimi and his defensive partners not having an answer to the introduction of Ishak Belfodil – who netted a brace – and Dennis Geiger – who carved open the Bundesliga leaders open time and again.
In isolation, though, Hakimi was one of Dortmund’s best performers over the entirety of the fixture.
It may come across as bizarre given their wobble in the final 15 minutes, but the statistics make for good reading; the Morocco international was extremely effective when the home side were on top and proved his worth in the attacking and defensive phases of play.
The left-back made a glut of interceptions owing to his anticipatory style of defending, but equally took no chances when he had to clear the ball from harm’s way.
It was on one of those occasions in which the defender calmly read the flight of the ball that led to Dortmund scoring their second.
Having prevented a cross from reaching its intended target, the full-back laid the ball off to a teammate, sprinted from deep inside his defensive third into the space in midfield to receive the pass, before subsequently giving the ball to Axel Witsel. The Belgian midfield man released Sancho whose effort was parried into the path of Mario Gotze who tapped in from close range.
While little details like the aforementioned are commonly missed in-game, Hakimi’s gumption to take responsibility for his side’s quick break was admirable.
He equally played a role in Sancho’s opener too, albeit a really small part. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out how the on-loan defender could have done much better for Hoffenheim halving the deficit when he failed to jump for a Florian Grillitsch cross, and in turn allowing Pavel Kaderabek easily head home for 3-2.
It shouldn’t put a dampener on an otherwise good outing, and certainly can’t erase the progress made in the seven months under Favre.
Having somewhat stalled after a decent-to-good start under Zinedine Zidane last season, the temporary spell under the Swiss head coach’s tutelage for the next couple of years will do him a whole world of good.
By contrast, the same unfortunately can’t be said for Serge Aurier at Tottenham, who Hakimi may be in direct competition with should the Ivory Coast international start on Wednesday.
The right-back has amazed and frustrated in unbalanced measure since making a move from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017.
In truth, anyone who thinks the unpleasant headlines happen to the full-back at random is grossly mistaken. The simple truth, which cannot be avoided, is the Ivorian defender courts controversy.
From a critic’s point of view, it’s disappointing to think he hasn’t made his mark in the Premier League since PSG move and still finds himself playing second fiddle to Kieran Trippier. In theory, Aurier has the ability to thrive under Mauricio Pochettino, but his unreliability has seen the Englishman favored at his expense.
Aurier is currently one of the best RBs in the world when he is on form.— ENTRENADOR (@Adegun_JO) August 31, 2017
The critics will soon have a song for him after forgiving him
In Spurs’ unconvincing 3-1 win over Leicester City, the ‘Bury Beckham’ was extremely vulnerable against Harvey Barnes and seemed unable to cope with the youngster’s directness and off-the-ball movement for large periods.
Only when the youngster tired in the game’s latter stages did the defender get breathing space.
Usually, the knock-on-effect of such a below-par outing sees the player in question dropped for the next game, but that’s highly unlikely in this situation.
Deep down, and from the outside looking in, the feeling is that the Ivorian still doesn’t have the full trust of his manager, and he has no one but himself to blame given previous unruly behavior on and off the pitch.
Appearances these days are fleeting, evidenced by the fact the firebrand has only started five times in the league this season, with the most recent coming two weeks ago in a 2-1 win against Watford.
Before that was an abysmal outing in the League Cup semi-final second-leg defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
In truth, it would be a surprise to see Aurier named among the 11 trusted to do a job against Favre’s high-flying, but injury hit, side.
For Hakimi, how he develops in the next 18 months could be vital to his future in Madrid.
With Marcelo’s future up in the air, the Morocco international seemingly has what it takes to step into the legendary Brazilian’s boots and write his own story at what many consider the biggest club on the planet – honing his craft under Favre is ideal preparation.Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Aurier, who can’t seem to stop sinking deeper and deeper into insignificance as he struggles to shake his long-standing demons.