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Despite a recent downturn in their Premier League form, it has been an impressive first season back in the top flight from Watford and one of their unsung heroes has been 21 year old Nathan Ake.
The Dutch youngster joined on loan from Chelsea last summer and was initially viewed as more of a squad player than anything else. Ake had little more than 100 minutes of Premier League football behind him and had only got five starts at Reading on loan in the Championship the season before so it was perhaps a surprise that he ended up at Vicarage Road rather than a lower league side where game time, which he badly needed, would be more likely.
Ake started the season as a back-up with the likes of Ikechi Anya and Jose Holebas occupying the left-back role for the Hornets while Ben Watson and Etienne Capoue were impressing in central midfield, where Ake is also capable of playing.
He had to be patient to get his chance with Watford going well but since getting his first Premier League start for Watford in the 1-1 draw at Bournemouth in October he hasn’t looked back and has remained a regular fixture in the side.
17 of his 18 starts have been at left-back while he also demonstrated his impressive versatility by excelling in an unfamiliar emergency central defensive role against Leicester in March.
Some of his best performances have come against the stronger teams and more testing opponents which suggests he could have a real future at this level.
As well as his showing against the Foxes, he impressed in wins over Liverpool, where he netted his first Premier League goal, as well as during 2-0 successes against West Ham and Stoke and drew plaudits for his performance in a narrow defeat at Tottenham.
Ake is not the typical modern-day full-back in that he isn’t someone who makes a huge impact at the opposite end of the pitch with his creative play but he is a very strong defender and that has been exactly what Watford have needed in their first season back in the Premier League, which seems certain to end in safety.
His lack of attacking prowess may see him struggle to make the grade at Chelsea as a full-back at least.
However his ability to play more than one position does work in his favour though and should they opt against loaning him out again, he may get more chances to impress at Stamford Bridge next term having excelled in his breakthrough campaign at Vicarage Road.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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