While new signing João Cancelo at FC Bayern Munich impresses on the right-hand side of defence, Alphonso Davies slipped into a form crisis on the left. What options does coach Julian Nagelsmann have?
In the past few years, it was mostly like this at FC Bayern Munich in the full-back positions: if left-back Alphonso Davies is fit, then he is also undisputed – but who plays in the eternal problem zone on the right?
Joshua Kimmich and Benjamin Pavard embody international class there, but as is well known, they see themselves in the center. Alvaro Odriozola and Bouna Sarr, signed as backups, never offered themselves as real alternatives. Josip Stanisic plays mostly solid, but not outstanding. New signing Noussair Mazraoui made a good impression in the first half of the season but is currently out due to heart problems. After all, on Friday he started his advanced training again.
In response to this mixed situation, FC Bayern loaned João Cancelo from Manchester City during the winter break. Coach Julian Nagelsmann ordered the 28-year-old Portuguese straight into the starting eleven – and he thanked him with two convincing performances. Cancelo managed an assist in the 4-0 victory in the DFB Cup against FSV Mainz and in the 4-2 win against VfL Wolfsburg. His strong crosses could have resulted in even more goals.
Cancelo worked in a back three and a back four, he worked in a coherent team structure in Mainz and in a generally disappointing performance in Wolfsburg. “He gives us very good creativity and variability,” praised Nagelsmann. “He can cross with both feet. He’s a very, very good player in tight spaces and he’s not just an attacking thinker.”
Alphonso Davies: Lots of easy turnovers in Wolfsburg
After these impressions, Cancelo should be on the right for the time being – while Nagelsmann suddenly has a problem on the opposite side: Alphonso Davies recently slipped into a significant form crisis. A decent start to the second half of the season with a 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig was followed by two weak performances against 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt, a bench seat in Mainz (but a goal after being substituted on) and the provisional low point in Wolfsburg.
“I don’t think he’s overplayed,” speculated Nagelsmann after the Wolfsburg game. “I think that sometimes he wants a tad too much. He has his heart in the right place and wants to influence things, step on the gas, throw everything in.” In this overzeal, “he sometimes misses the right moment to play.”
In Wolfsburg, Davies recorded the most ball actions for FC Bayern, but, as in Frankfurt, he also lost the most balls by far (23 each). The 22-year-old Canadian sometimes made inexplicable mistakes. Davies’ pass rate was a worrying 77 percent. Cancelo, on the other hand, had nine fewer turnovers and a nine percentage point better passing rate.
While Cancelo mostly held the line and shone from there with his strong crosses, Davies moved into the center when he had possession of the ball and left the flank to winger Kingsley Coman, who scored two goals.
FC Bayern Munich: Who would be a Davies replacement?
In the best game of the second half of the season so far in Mainz, Coman even took care of the left wing all by himself as a rail player in a 3-1-4-2 system. Whether Davies’ form weakness would also be conceivable for the coming games, maybe even for the first knockout round first leg in the Champions League at Paris Saint-Germain next Tuesday. Before that, the Bundesliga game against VfL Bochum will take place on Saturday.
A prerequisite for a three-man chain system would probably be the recovery of Dayot Upamecano, who was injured in Wolfsburg – otherwise there would not be enough central defenders. Lucas Hernández will miss the rest of the season due to a cruciate ligament tear.
What other options does Nagelsmann have for the left-back position? The most obvious would be winter newcomer Daley Blind, who came on a free transfer from Ajax Amsterdam. The 32-year-old was stable in his first two brief appearances, and at the World Cup he was a left-hand player in a three-man formation for the Dutch national team.
Of course, Cancelo, who happily switched between the defensive sides at Manchester City, would also be an option. With that, Nagelsmann would only shift the problem zone back to the other side.