There has been much speculation in the news of late about who Manchester City will bring in this summer. With Rodri and Angelino signing this week, another name is still on Pep Guardiola’s ‘sign at all cost’ list. That name is João Cancelo, the current Scudetto winning right-back for Juventus. ‘Pep’ famously prefers to have two quality players in any one position, however, Cancelo would not simply be bolstering numbers. He possesses the ability to be the first choice right-back back for the ‘Citizens’
This tactical analysis will provide you with a thorough scout report which included Cancelo’s performance last season with Juventus. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will analyse how he could fit into the “Fourmiddable” Manchester City squad.
Joao Cancelo joined Benfica’s youth system at the age of 13 back in 2007 where he played both as a right-back and left-back. After impressing at junior level Cancelo was moved to the Benfica’s B team in 2012 and had even appeared for the first team in a friendly. By May 10th, 2014 Cancelo made his first full appearance for Benfica in a 2-1 loss to Porto. Fast forward several years, a transfer to Valencia for €15 million in 2015, a year-long loan to Inter where he was ever-present finally ending with a €40.4 million transfer to Serie A giants Juventus 2018.
Cancelo appeared in 34 matches altogether with 25 Serie A games winning the Scudetto. Internationally Cancelo has been capped at all youth ages from U16’s right the way through to U21’s and making his first full international cap at 22 years old. He was selected in the 35 man squad for the World Cup in Russia but missed out making the final cut.
Tackling isn’t associated as a key attribute for Cancelo. This isn’t because he lacks the technical skill, but because his attacking attributes overshine his defending capabilities. However, according to various sources, his tackling statistics lay somewhere between 1.4–1.6 tackles per 90 minutes. This no doubt contributed to Juventus only conceding 30 goals in 38 games, the best record in the league in 2018/19 season.
Upon further inspection, Cancelo is not only proficient in tackling, but also a well-rounded player in all facets. He calmly recovers possession with a well-timed standing tackle. Below we see him winning the ball cleanly and regaining possession. Once possession is regained he moves the ball infield and provides a ‘wedge’ pass into the middle of the pitch linking the centre midfielder.
As well as accurate standing tackles and winning back possession, Cancelo is no stranger to spectacular sliding tackles and dispossessing attackers. Below we can see Cancelo has tracked back to the left side of the pitch despite being a right back to make a sliding tackle. The ball is knocked out of play and stops a potential 4v3 should he have been beaten. An important and bold move to make when one-nil down to a very good Atalanta team.
With these tackles in mind, Cancelo also gives away a fair share of fouls which Guardiola would try and train out of him.
This is where Cancelo really shows his worth. Despite being a right-back, Cancelo’s key attributes are his technical dribbling ability on the ball, vision and distributing. He can pick the ball up from his own half and viscously attack open spaces in the middle of the field.
Once an opposing player has recognised his threat they press towards him opening space. The space is then taken advantage of and Cancelo usually finds a teammate within the attacking third. In the below graphic, we can see how Cancelo places himself amongst Europe’s best dribblers. It is alarming at the names in which surround him considering he is just a right back. It also shows how far forward and often he manages to drive the ball forward for Juventus.
Below is a still from Juventus v Ajax in the Champions League. Cancelo picks the ball up 40 yards out on the counter-attack and drives into the attacking third of the pitch. He has a clear option to his right but instead floats in a perfectly weighted cross for one of Europe’s best headers of the ball, Cristiano Ronaldo, who plants it bottom right of the net.
Positionally Cancelo places himself high and wide when attacking. This is something Guardiola’s preached to his wingbacks and wingers and once, even subbed Henry off at Barcelona for cutting inside too early despite scoring.
Above we can see Cancelo ‘hugging’ the right touchline when Juve attack. However, the possession is lost and Gervinho finds himself in space. Cancelo closes Gervinho down on the blind side and wins the ball off him cleanly taking possession.
Once Cancelo has the ball at his feet he dribbles infield to take on the midfielder. He cuts back out, wrong-footing the midfielder before driving towards goal, getting a shot away which sails just over the woodwork. From losing the ball to salvaging possession to almost a goal. That is Cancelo’s ‘magic’ at work.
Cancelo’s passing ability is probably what has drawn Guardiola’s attention to him. His vision is remarkable and can find players running into space before the move has happened, very much like Kevin De Bruyne.
Below we can see Cancelo has gained possession and under a high Empoli press in the corner of the pitch. Passing channels have been reduced spelling potential danger for the ‘Old Lady’ to not lose the ball. However, Cancelo calmly manages to dummy then wedge pass to the middle of the pitch as the central defending midfielder loses his marker and receives the ball.
With great foresight and vision Cancelo verges on being a deep-lying playmaker, again, something Pep would love to add to his super attacking side. Below we can see how Cancelo can switch the ball to the other wing and in this case beats two defending lines and initiates a 3v3.
So how does he compare to Manchester City’s current right-back and title challenging, Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold? In this analysis, we will use statistics to compare all three.
Against Kyle Walker, the main difference is the increase of passes leading to shots per 90mins from 0.78 to 1.55 and passes that lead to goals per 90 mins 0.03 to 0.14.
Compared with arguably one of the best right-backs in the Premier League last season we the stats are very close but with Alexander-Arnold coming out on top with “Sum of expected shots from a player’s key passes per 90” 0.18 to 0.28 and “Passes led to goals per 90” 0.14 to 0.44.
Next, we take a look at a broader list of categories per 90 minutes.
We see that Cancelo slightly tops shots, shots at goal, goals, tackles, dribbles, and duels won. Walker wins the passing and Alexander-Arnold tops crosses, accurate crosses along with chances created.
All in all, Cancelo scores highly against Walker. Though not as strong or as fast as City’s current right-back Cancelo has the qualities Guardiola loves in a player.
How could fit into the City’s team 2019/20?
Standing at 182 cm, Cancelo is a welcomed figure in the smallest team in the Premier League. His height and aerial ability could possibly stop potential vulnerabilities from set-pieces. But just how could Manchester City line up with Cancelo in the team?
Below is a prediction of how they could line up. Tactics wise, Guardiola opts for a 4-3-3 and if you take David Silva, Rodri and De Bruyne as the middle three with Sterling, Aguero, and Bernardo Silva as the attacking three. This lineup becomes a more probable possibility.
The way in which the team would play would not be too dissimilar to how Guardiola usually approaches games. High press, high intensity, positional awareness and ability to move the ball quickly through and out wide from the other team. We could see Mendy and Cancelo moving far higher up the pitch as wing-back overlapping and causing overloads on either side of the field.
Rodri would play as a pivot with the backline giving extensive attacking options through the middle as well as having wing backs that are just as capable as a winger to create attacks. This leaves Bernado and Sterling to run into space and pull the opposition apart to create possible channels for Aguero to run into.
Cancelo may also cut inwards into the half-spaces as the winger draws the defence out wide.
It is, however, noted that City are now lacking a gargantuan hole left by captain, legend and converted Mancunian Vincent Kompany at centre-back. If Guardiola ever felt to be inclined to play three at the back permanently then the team could take a whole new shape.
With Rodri joining the team and employed as a centre defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker and City refraining from “distorting the transfer market” with a new centre back. City could go with just Angelino, Laporte and Cancelo in defence. The link-up with Rodri would be key defending and going forward. Once in the second third of the pitch City have strength in depth and options which looks harrowing to any team on the planet.
The players in orange are to reflect the strength in depth and the possibility of being used in rotation for the League Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League.
The deal for Cancelo looked as good as done last week with Juventus wanting to offload as he does not typically fit Sarri’s style. However, City prefers to include Danilo in the transfer to drive the price down and to keep the overall numbers of defenders down at the club. It isn’t certain to whether he will end up in playing for the ‘Citizens’, but what is certain is that if he does, he would be a fantastic signing and would add exponentially to Guardiola’s already formidable attacking options.
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