In just two years at Dortmund, the 21-year-old Morocco international has turned into one of the most exciting young talents in the world.
With 7 goals and 10 assists already to his name this year, it’s safe to say that Hakimi has been one of the most dangerous players in Lucien Favre’s squad. Replacing him would not be easy. Thomas Meunier, the 28-year-old right-back currently at PSG, has been heavily linked with a move to Dortmund.
Despite coming out publicly to deny any possible transfer, some sources even claimed the clubs are in the final stages of negotiation and are waiting on a few final signatures. However, in this analysis, we will treat this exactly as what it is, an unofficial rumour, and will consider the spot still open.
Understanding Hakimi’s role
Naturally, a right-back, the Morocco international, who was born in Getafe, near Madrid, decided two years ago to leave his hometown club, temporarily, in search for playing time.
He moved to Dortmund in July 2018, where he has not only secured a starting spot for himself but has entered the conversation as one of the most sought after players in Europe at the moment.
Able to play both in defence and attack as a winger on both sides of the formation, Hakimi has proven to be a truly versatile and dynamic piece to have. However, for this scout report, we will only look at him in the new role that Favre found for him – the right wing-back.
After trying out various other formations, such as 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or even a 4-4-2, the French manager has settled on the 3-4-3 as his preferred system for his Dortmund’s squad.
In that lineup, Hakimi will usually be deployed on the right-wing on the formation, acting as a wing-back who will have the freedom to roam down the flank and support the attack as well as contribute defensively by tracking back when needed.
At Dortmund, Hakimi plays in a lineup that is most in its element playing fast-break, counterattacking football. Dortmund leads all Bundesliga teams with 10 goals scored on the counter-attack and they also maintain the highest tempo in the league.
Tasked with handling most of the right-wing of the field, as highlighted by his heatmap above for the 2019/20 season, he needs to be able to handle and attack space, and do it quickly and at a fast pace.
Due to his speed, he is able to handle this brilliantly. Hakimi has officially been crowned the fastest ever recorded player in Bundesliga, clocking a speed of 36.20 km/h. It’s safe to say that whoever will replace Hakimi going into next season will need to at least come close to matching that speed, and that’s one of the things that we will look at in candidates.
One other factor we will consider for his potential replacements in this scout report is playmaking. Both for themselves, as well as for their teammates.
Hakimi averages 0.33 assists and 0.17 xA (expected assists) per 90 minutes played. Across all full-backs playing in a top 5 league this year, those numbers put him in the 99th and 91st percentiles, respectively.
He is also averaging 2.55 successful dribbles, again good enough to rank him in the top 1% of his peers, while his dribble success rate of 60.47% is better than average and would place him in the 63rd percentile.
Defensive contribution is something that we will consider, but it won’t necessarily make it into the deciding factors list. Due to the three-at-the-back formation that Favre deploys in his tactics at Dortmund, Hakimi is offered cover by one of the three centre-backs, usually Łukasz Piszczek. The Polish defender, a former right-back himself, is tasked with making Hakimi’s life easier and letting him roam more freely up and down the flank.
To summarize, what we have so far is: speed, and ability to attack and operate in space; playmaking ability, by measuring how well he creates for himself, in terms of dribbling, as well as for his teammates; and finally, defensive contribution.
With that in mind, I’ve looked both at data as well as footage to break down a list of, what I believe to be, the best candidates for the job. I have looked only at U23 candidates and have put together a list of the most promising prospects.
Youcef Atal (OCG Nice) – 23 years old
As a disclaimer moving forward, the players are not necessarily ranked by value, they are simply randomly ordered.
However, it’s hard not to consider the Algeria-born Atal as the perfect fit for Dortmund as a replacement for Hakimi.
Like Hakimi, he has experience playing not only as a right-back but also as a winger. As a matter of fact, out of 13 appearances in the current Ligue 1 season, he played as a primary right-back only three games.
And just like Hakimi, one of the main things that Atal is known for is his unbelievable speed. He was recorded at an even faster pace than Dortmund’s wing-back, clocking in at a 36.60 km/h pace in a game against Monaco, back in September.
Regardless of whether it is attacking on a fast-break or trying to break down the defence by staying wide and forcing them to offer him space, Atal is always a threat down the wing.
His speed is that good. He only needs a small area of space to take off and he will be incredibly tough to catch.
Especially at Dortmund, in a system that will offer him the possibility to stay high and wide up the field. Playing next to wingers that will intentionally draw defenders inside to create space for him to play him on the wing would make him a dangerously great fit.
With an average of 5.16 progressive runs per 90, behind only Neymar in Ligue 1, Atal is used to attacking space by making the best use of his speed.
As highlighted in the frame above, he is also good at manipulating defenders and catching them off-guard so he is able to attack even when he is marked closely. In this example, he takes off virtually before he even touches the ball.
The defender is frozen and a little slow to react, and in just one touch, the Algerian international is able to send the ball past his marker and start accelerating away. By moving to a team that is known for making use of their fast-break opportunities, he will be even more dangerous than he already has proven to be.
In terms of playmaking, Atal does not compare as well to the Dortmund wing-back. However, virtually no other full-back does. Atal averages a mediocre 0.09 assists per 90 minutes played, while his 0.06 xA per 90 is only good enough to rank him in the 36th percentile.
However, the Algerian is better at creating for himself. His 44.34% dribble success rate would put him in the 18th percentile, but his 4.2 successful dribbles per 90 are not only highest among full-backs, but it is also 14th highest average across all players in the top 5 leagues.
In terms of defensive contribution, Atal averages 2.15 tackles won per 90 at a tackle success rate of only 57.14%. However, as mentioned earlier, we have put defensive contribution at the bottom for a reason. And the reason is that, at Dortmund, Atal would have cover behind him to allow him to play and defend further up the field instead.
Having him defending higher up the field can only benefit him, as well as the team. By using his speed, he can close off distance well and create pressure, and he’s also fast enough to create interceptions in the opposite half of the field, demonstrated by his 2.15 interceptions per 90, good enough to rank him in the 95th percentile across all full-backs.
It’s worth noting that the Algerian full-back has unfortunately suffered what would appear to be a season-ending injury on his knee, for which he underwent surgery. It’s unclear if this could convince Nice to be more open to sell or drive his price down, but it should be a factor in any decision-making on Dortmund’s part as well.
Max Aarons (Norwich City) – 20 years old
Max Aarons, the young prospect out of Norwich City, has emerged into the Premier League scene as one of the most promising young players currently playing in the league and is already the transfer target of clubs such as Bayern Munich and Tottenham.
The 20-year-old won his starting job last year in the Championship, where he started the last 41 games of the season for a Norwich side that finished top of the league, winning a ticket to Premier League.
This year, Aarons has started 27 times for The Canaries, all appearances coming as the right-back of Daniel Farke’s team. The young full-back has proven to have superb ball control, good acceleration, good instincts and defensive presence, and perhaps most impressively – a completely fearless attitude.
Despite being only 20-years-old, Aarons is not afraid to showcase his ability on the field, whether as a dribbler, playmaker, or defender. He completes his dribble at a rate of only 44.16%, but he is averaging 1.26 successful dribble attempts per 90, which is good enough for the 77th percentile among full-backs.
While he only produces 0.04 assists per 90, that number is more due to his teammates missing good opportunities that he creates. His 0.13 xA per 90 is well above average for his position and would place him in the 81st percentile.
His unlucky A-xA of -2.5 would indicate he doesn’t lack playmaking skills. For comparison, Hakimi is having a +5.7 difference, indicating his teammates are also helping him by converting shots into goals.
Another impressive ability he has proven to possess is his crossing game. While averaging 0.53 completed crosses per 90, he is completing them at a 24.56% rate, good enough for the 69th percentile among his peers.
At 2.34 progressive runs averaged per 90 minutes played, he is well capable of attacking space as a ball carrier. However, more impressive for his young age is his ability to create space while using his teammates.
In the frame above, he is playing the first-touch pass so that he can then attack down the wing free of his marker, and wait to receive the ball.
From there, keeping his eyes inside the box to scan for options, he finds the best route to go with his cross, sending the ball low to meet his teammate wide open in the middle of the penalty box, ready to shoot (see frame above).
It’s clear that at just 20 years of age, Aarons is still a little green. It’s also evident that he has superstar ability. So with that in mind, what better place for him to develop than at Dortmund, a club known for buying young prospects and turning them into big names?
Sergiño Dest (Ajax) – 19 years old
The young Dutch-born American has burst into the scene this season, as he progressed to the first team of Ajax and at the age of only 19 years old has virtually secured himself the starting job as the right-back.
Blessed with impressive technical ability and ball control, as well as superb vision of the game, Dest has quickly grown into one of the most raved-about players in European football.
Like Aarons, he is too believed to be on the radar of some of the biggest clubs of the continent, including Bayern Munich, who is said to be the front-runner to secure his signature.
The American star is currently completing his dribbles at an impressive 55.1% rate, while also providing 4 assists in the 2019/20 Eredivisie season, at a very impressive average of 0.25 assists per 90 minutes.
He is making 2.22 progressive runs per 90 and is completing his crosses at a well above average rate of 27.1%.
At Ajax, Dest was grown into a more possession-oriented system, and this shows in his game. He has tremendous playmaking potential for his position, displaying good vision and understanding of the game.
He looks more natural having the game in front of him to create, rather than being posted upfront. However, a talent like Dest will fit in any squad, regardless of system.
The young full-back is playing in a system that is rarely presented with opportunities for fast-break attacks. Instead, Dest is usually facing low-block opponents, as in the frame above.
This has helped the American international to adapt and develop his game so he can break down opponents like these. As in the example shown, Dest is attacking inside, recognizing the pocket of space in between the defenders and waiting to receive the ball.
A potentially signing of Dest would not only be a big addition to replace Hakimi, but it would also be a big blow to Dortmund’s rival in German football, Bayern Munich. Perhaps Dest will want to follow his good friend’s footsteps, Christian Pulisic, as he did when he chose the USMNT over the Dutch squad, and begin his climb to superstardom at Borussia.
Honourable mention: Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax) – 22 years old
Perhaps unfairly forgotten due to Dest’s impressive and fast ascension is Noussair Mazraoui, the Moroccan international currently at Ajax.
Just like Dest, Mazraoui had a rather fast turnaround last year, when he won the starting job at right-back and posted impressive performances on a squad that went as high as the Champions League semifinals.
This year, the Moroccan has taken a bit of a step back, and Erik ten Hag had to find different ways to offer him minutes on the field. Mazraoui started games at left-back, right-winger as well as in central midfield. He was even sent to the second team of Ajax for minutes.
However, despite his versatility, it’s evident that Mazraoui’s best fit is at full-back, preferably on the right flank. It’s also easy to forget, but unfair to the Moroccan, how well he performed in that role last year.
In 2018/19, the full-back averaged 71 ball touches and 0.9 key passes per game, completed his passes at an 87% rate, created 1.7 interceptions and won 2.6 tackles per game.
In addition to that, the young Moroccan has proven his technical skills and good control of the ball by completing 1.7 dribbles per game, at a very impressive rate of 74%.
Don’t let Dest’s rise distract you from the fact that Mazraoui is still a good prospect in his own right. If Ajax wanted to let him go this summer, he would be a good addition to many clubs in Europe, including Borussia Dortmund.
While it won’t necessarily be easy, Dortmund has options to make sure they find a suitable replacement for Hakimi, as he sets off for a likely departure from the club this summer.
As this scout report intended to show, there are young prospects that would be good fits in Lucien Favre’s tactics and that could successfully fill the right wing-back void. This analysis only served to expose some of the top prospects available.