How has Chelsea loanee Nathan Ake improved Bournemouth?
Nathan Ake had to wait three months for his chance to cement a place in AFC Bournemouth’s starting line-up. The Netherlands Under-21 international, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, had been restricted to the role of frustrated onlooker with only the occasional substitute appearance as Eddie Howe kept faith with the back four that was a mainstay of last season. But a suspension to Adam Smith for the trip to Stoke City presented an opportunity for Ake, who has grabbed it with both hands.
Partnering Steve Cook in the heart of the defence, with skipper Simon Francis moving to right-back in Smith’s absence, Ake scored the only goal of the game and turned in an assured performance as the Cherries recorded their first away victory of the season. The following weekend in a 3-1 defeat by Arsenal, he was Bournemouth’s man of the match, coping admirably with the twin threat of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Then against Liverpool, Ake was the Cherries’ surprise match-winner once more, netting a dramatic injury-time winner to seal an incredible 4-3 victory at the Vitality Stadium.
Given the impact he has had for his adopted club, many supporters have questioned why it took so long for Howe to pick Ake. The Bournemouth manager is fiercely loyal and can sometimes be accused of being too stubborn with his team selections. Now Ake has established himself in the team, it has given Howe a headache when Charlie Daniels returns to fitness. He has long been Howe’s preferred left-back but with the loanee impressing so much, one of Daniels, Smith, Francis or Cook must make way.
A plethora of clubs were chasing Ake’s signature last summer after it emerged he would be available for a second consecutive season-long loan. He had been named Watford’s young player of the year after starring for the Hornets, scoring once in 24 Premier League appearances. It’s understood Chelsea chose Bournemouth under the proviso that Ake would be utilised in a defensive midfield role, the position they have earmarked for him. Howe has so far opted not to select Ake in midfield, with Andrew Surman and Dan Gosling ahead of him in the pecking order. As well as playing at centre-back, the flexible 21-year-old also operated at left-back against Liverpool following a tactical change in the second half, a position he occupied so successfully for Watford.
Unsubstantiated reports have suggested a clause in the loan deal could allow Chelsea to recall Ake during the January transfer window, although the Cherries will be reluctant to do so now he has become such an integral part of the side. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp waxed lyrical about Ake in his Daily Mail column, comparing the youngster with another dreadlocked Dutchman, Ruud Gullit. Redknapp had been hugely impressed with Ake’s composed display against Arsenal and suggested he had the attributes to hold down a regular starting place under Antonio Conte next season.
Chelsea’s controversial loan policy – they have farmed out no fewer than 38 players to other clubs this season – has come under severe scrutiny. Historically, most haven’t managed to break into the Blues’ first team. Whether Ake bucks this trend remains to be seen. But a full season of Premier League football with Bournemouth can surely only aid his development. Ake has had to wait longer than he would have expected to break his way into the side, but now he has shown his capabilities, it seems unlikely he will be dislodged any time soon.
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