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Africa Sports News of Sunday, 20 June 2021


How Hakimi overtook Aurier as Africa’s number one right-back

Moroccan right back Achraf Hakimi Moroccan right back Achraf Hakimi

When Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur faced off in the Champions League group stage in 2017/18, the game included an intriguing African subplot.

Before a ball was kicked, the head-to-head between right-backs Achraf Hakimi and Serge Aurier had got people talking, although perhaps few could have accurately predicted that it would be a meeting between Africa's best right-back and the man who would take that mantle.

Featuring for Los Blancos was a 17-year-old Hakimi, less than a month before his 18th birthday, while Aurier turned out for the visitors. The Moroccan was effectively Africa’s future in that position while the Ivory Coast star represented the present at the time.

Fast forward four years and a whole lot has changed.

Even though the North African didn't ultimately command a first-term berth at Real Madrid, he has gone on to enjoy success at Borussia Dortmund and Internazionale.

The 22-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds since that encounter with Aurier in October 2017 and has surpassed the West African as the continent’s number one.

In truth, it should be noted that both seldom play in the same position these days. Hakimi is deployed at right wing-back while the Ivorian has largely played at right-back.

Both roles are interpreted differently and the upshot of that means attacking stats may always be skewed in the Moroccan’s favour.

The simplest way of giving credence to the ex-Real full-back’s superiority will be considering the varying level of interest in both in the transfer market.

Despite Inter’s precarious financial situation, the turbo-charged wide defender still commands a higher fee than the Tottenham man.

Admittedly, the West African has only a year left on his Spurs deal, whereas Hakimi has four years to go on his Inter contract.

Despite this, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been linked with the wing-back — with the first pair showing strong interest — but Aurier has, so far, failed to generate interest comparable to the 22-year-old.

The Ivory Coast full-back, in theory, ought to have teams lining up to strike a deal with Spurs owing to the length of his contract; still, very little has materialised.

While the ex-PSG man recently revealed an intention to leave England, preferring a return to Paris and be reunited with old boss Mauricio Pochettino, the Ligue 1 giants seemingly prefer Hakimi and are willing to splurge a premium on the youngster.

Undeniably, Hakimi vs Aurier shouldn’t even be a debate.

Even though criticism of the 28-year-old can be greatly exaggerated and his influence at Spurs irritatingly watered down at times, he’s now a level or two below the Moroccan.

Indeed, the eye test proves this and so do the numbers.

Among defenders in Europe’s top five leagues, only Robin Gosens (17) was involved in more goal contributions than Hakimi’s 15 (seven goals and eight assists). Aurier netted only two goals and set up three assists.

Of course, the Ivory Coast full-back’s significantly lower minutes mean goals and assists may not be the appropriate metric to demonstrate the Inter wideman’s dominance. A deeper dive ought to do the trick.

According to Fbref, the explosive wing-back dominated for key passes per 90, progressive passes per 90, attempts to find a teammate in the final third and also in the penalty area. His expected assists average in Serie A in 20/21 predictably trumped Aurier’s with Spurs in the PL—0.23 to 0.11.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old was more involved in moves leading to chances and goals last term. Hakimi played a part in 1.99 in-play passes per 90 leading to shots and 0.51 live-ball passes resulting in a goal for Inter in his debut campaign, whereas the Spurs player’s respective numbers read 1.29 and 0.17.

Antonio Conte’s usage of the Moroccan and the gifts of the young wide defender equally contribute to the chasm in how they fared in possession. The Scudetto champion averaged more attempted and completed dribbles than the West African and made more progressive ball carries per 90 than Aurier (7.47 to 3.20).

Expectedly, however, Tottenham’s right-back ranks higher for defensive actions.

He was the more accomplished presser, attempted a higher number of tackles per 90 (4.10 to 1.76) and averaged more blocks and interceptions. Significantly, Aurier beat the North African for recoveries per 90 and won 51 percent of his aerial duels, to Hakimi’s 31 percent.

Again, the aforementioned stats should be accompanied with the caveat that both players have largely functioned in different roles anyway with the Inter man fulfilling more attacking responsibility than the ex-PSG player.

Having said that, it is Hakimi who’s regarded as one of the best players in his position. Furthermore, the Inter star is highly sought-after in the current window and evidently has a higher ceiling than the 28-year-old.

This seemed a serious debate four years ago but the Moroccan’s continued development and Aurier seemingly plateauing means both players aren’t in the same weight division any longer