After making an immediate impact on the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund's Achraf Hakimi is out to prove he is the league's best full-back.
As Dortmund coach Lucien Favre opted for the experience of veteran Lukasz Piszczek for the opening matches of the 2018/19 season, Hakimi had to wait patiently until Matchday 5 to make his first appearance for his new club. When 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, 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 built on that promising debut with a stunning hat-trick of assists in Dortmund's 4-0 UEFA Champions League win over Atletico Madrid, and he was duly named Bundesliga Rookie of the Month for September – only his second month in German football, picking up the award again in November.
Following that maiden bow, Hakimi was left out of only two games until he fractured his metatarsal in March. Even when the man he was seemingly providing cover for at right-back – Piszczek – returned from injury, Favre did not see any reason to drop Hakimi, but instead inverted his position. Hakimi duly showed he was equally adept in providing assists for Paco Alcacer, Mario Götze and Co. from the left-hand side of the field.
Watch: Why Hakimi won Rookie of the Month in November 2018
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 shone through in his performances during his debut Bundesliga season. At right-back, in his first three appearances in the position, Hakimi made a league-leading 32 sprints per 90 minutes and achieved an impressive top speed of 21.5 miles per hour. Furthermore, he 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 that same position (103.9).
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 and ended up with a winner's medal in 2018 – 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 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."
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 20, Hakimi’s statistics also show a footballing intelligence and composure more common among old hands, with a pass completion rate of almost 90 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 emerged the victor in just under 50 per cent of the duels he contested. In comparison, the assurance provided by an experienced player like Piszczek becomes apparent. The Polish defender was successful with 58.7 per cent of his tackles, and won over 68 per cent of his aerial duels. Additionally, he covered more ground per 90 minutes than his younger teammate.
Nevertheless, for a player only just out of his teenage years, Hakimi has hit the ground running and staked a strong claim to be considered the top right-back of the 2018/2019 Bundesliga season. Midway through his two-year loan deal, Dortmund might be champing at the bit for the chance to make their emerging star a permanent fixture at the Signal Iduna Park.