Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Joao Cancelo knows better than anyone that in football, fortunes can change quite quickly.

In the second half of last season, after furore around his ‘reverse’ back-up feats had subsided, the Manchester City man looked set to lose Pep Guardiola’s confidence. He found himself locked out of his favorite right-back role by Kyle Walker, and he sat out both in the second round of the Champions League semi-final and the final.

Fast forward to today and Cancelo is in the shape of his life. He has beaten a starting spot as City’s left-back (despite being right-footed) and is changing everyone’s perception of how the position should be played. Along with Bernardo Silva, he has been City’s best player so far this season.

Easy on the eye and exciting to see, from a purely statistical perspective, his performances have been off the charts. But as the Portuguese national team player revealed CityTV this week he does not like personal numbers so much.

“To be honest, I don’t really look at statistics, because I think it hides what a player is really doing on the pitch,” he said. “I prefer to be a player who is out of the limelight but who is important to the team.”

We understand where Joao comes from – it says a lot about his attitude that he would like to derive praise for himself on the team as a whole. But he is wrong; his statistics absolutely do show what he is doing on the pitch.

Passing maestro

When trying to measure how good a defender is on the ball, passing percentages are a pretty useless measure, as they include all the safe 10-yard passes between teammates.

Manchester City defender Joao Cancelo has been in excellent form lately.
Manchester City defender Joao Cancelo has been in excellent form lately

What is telling, however, is that despite being a defensive player, Cancelo ranks above every other Premier League player in a number of different passing conditions.

So far this season, no one has completed more than Cancelo’s 67 passes in the final third of the pitch, meaning he is an absolutely crucial cog in City’s attacking efforts.

His 25 completed passes into the opponents ’18-yard field surpass Mohamed Salah’s 21, and are beaten only by Bruno Fernandes’ 26.

Given Cancelo’s abilities on the ball, it is perhaps not surprising that his teammates actively want to send to him; he has been the target of a pass 646 times this season. Salah is the second most targeted player with 558.

Defensively solid

At times, questions have been raised about Cancelo’s defensive abilities, but in recent times he has improved that side of his game.

City’s number 27 leads the charts in terms of interceptions, having intercepted passes on 28 occasions over the course of nine games. That is an average of 3.11 interceptions per. 90 minutes. Last season, that number was down to 2.08.

Even when it comes to tackling – an art form associated with the greatest, toughest defenders – Cancelo is more than enduring; only eight Premier League defenders have made more than his 20 tackles this season.

Simply put, the idea that Cancelo is a defensively defensive back is a myth.

Master of everything

Despite the form declining towards the end of last season, Cancelo still found himself in a rather exclusive group.

The 27-year-old became the first Premier League player to average more than two tackles (2.7), more than 1.5 chances created (1.7) and more than 50 successful passes (61.5) per 90 minutes since Cesc Fabregas in 2017/18. Matching the figures of a great midfielder while playing in defense was frankly a unique achievement.

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What further underscores Cancelo’s unique interpretation of the fullback’s position is that he is the only defender among the previous 10 players to have hit those combined points, stretching back to Aaron Ramsey in 2013/14.

Based on his statistics per. 90 minutes so far this season, he’s just about to copy those numbers.

In Cancelo, City clearly have an almost complete footballer who is able to play in a number of positions due to his excellent technical abilities. We think he should give himself a little more credit!

Do you think Cancelo is one of the best players in the league? Follow The city is our author Alex Brotherton ISLAND n Twitter to join the conversation and tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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