Manuel Akanji is hoping that Manchester City can prove their class to crown a “perfect season.”
The English Premier League champions are not only fighting to retain the title they won on the final day last season, but face Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals and Sheffield United in an FA Cup last-four encounter at Wembley.
A treble would cap a dream debut campaign for defender Akanji, who joined last summer from Borussia Dortmund for £15 million.
“That’s what we are working for, to always be in the competitions and win the trophies,” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“We are still in the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Premier League — and I hope we can win it all in the end. We want the perfect season, yes.
“We take it game by game and first we have got to focus on Southampton on Saturday and then we are looking at the Bayern game and we will see. We are on a good run now.”
After the league trip to Southampton, City host Bayern in the first leg of their last-eight tie on Tuesday.
Should they overcome the German champions, they will face 14-time winners Real Madrid in the semifinals.
That would be special for Akanji who was a fan of the Spanish giants — and their former captain Raul — as a youngster.
“When I grew up I wasn’t a defender so I didn’t really look at them,” added the 27-year-old. “I played up front, played midfield, played as a winger and sometimes as a striker as well, so my role model when I was young was Raul from Real Madrid.”
“My neighbor was a Madrid fan so I turned into one too, that’s how it is. He was a couple of years older than me so you look at what these guys are doing and I turned into a Madrid fan as well.
“Raul was the guy who scored a lot of goals so that’s why he was my role model,” he said.
Akanji says that City have to prove they are the world’s best by going for success “in every game, every competition.”
“Real Madrid won the Champions League how many times? 14, so many — and City are not there yet. But I think it will be a good start if we can win it this year — I hope so.
“The Champions League is special, the first final I saw was Porto against Monaco in 2004, I was on holiday and remember watching that game.”
City racked up their seventh successive win when they beat Liverpool 4-1 at the Etihad last weekend.
They are hoping to cut leaders Arsenal’s eight-point lead with victory at Southampton on Saturday, while the Gunners visit Anfield on Sunday to face Jurgen Klopp’s side.
City will have striker Erling Haaland back in their attack after he missed the Liverpool win with a groin injury.
The Norwegian has 42 goals this season and Akanji, who was also at Dortmund with Haaland, said: “No, I’m not surprised by him.
“I played with him before and know what he is capable of — and he is only going to get better, ” Akanji said.
“I think he’s one of the best strikers and that’s why he is here at this club. He shows it week by week in all the games we have and he’s working hard in training. It’s why he gets better with all the games.”
Switzerland international Akanji is also hoping to improve his own game further at City, having established himself as a key member of Pep Guardiola’s side with his versatility.
“In our team we have got so many good defenders I can learn off every day,” he said. “When I look at the other defenders, I see William Saliba at Arsenal and he’s really young, but he’s having a great season. “
“Virgil van Dijk, he’s so great in the aerial duels and that’s something that I can improve on, learn from him. Obviously I’m not as tall, but I think it’s his all-round ability that makes him so good.
“He’s been playing at the top level for so many years, with such a high quality. The same as Thiago Silva. When I look at Chelsea I still think he’s still the best defender at 38.”
City have conceded just two goals in their past seven games, while scoring 27, and Akanji said: “It’s not easy for us defenders, but we have to give the team strength from the back.
“We have to give confidence to the ball players and forward and calm it down a little bit in certain situations.
“It’s not always the easiest part because you can play good for 89 minutes and then you can make a mistake and the game is bad. But it’s just how it is in football and you have to deal with that.”