It is no longer news that Manchester City have a problem at left-back. For three seasons Pep Guardiola has relied on regularly using players out of position to cover up for the position. Natural left-back Benjamin Mendy is usually plagued by injury or poor form. His latest layout has forced the manager to deploy right-back Joao Cancelo to the position.
The former Juventus man endured a difficult time at the club last term as he had to settle for a place on the bench while Oleksandr Zinchenko covered up for Mendy. But even the Ukrainian has struggled with injury this season, opening the door to Cancelo. Like a man on a mission, the Portuguese is playing some of his best football at the moment.
The 26-year-old has been one of City’s best players since the campaign began. He has featured in all of City’s Champions League matches and was on the score sheet after coming on as a substitute against Olympiakos. In the Premier League, he has been one of the outstanding players for City, grabbing an assist against West Ham to help the team avoid another damaging defeat.
Although he has also been excellent at the national team setup, perhaps his best game of the campaign was the latest against Liverpool. His performance drew praise from the manager after the encounter, and rightfully so.
“He played exceptional, with and without the ball with his quality,” Guardiola stated.
“Up front he has a special talent, defensively sometimes he needs to be consistent but when he is consistent and focused he is a fantastic football player and guy.”
The Portugal international was outstanding both in defence and going forward. He came close to supplying another assist with a cross that caught the Liverpool defence off guard. But Gabriel Jesus failed to keep his free header on target.
He constantly held-off Mohamed Salah preventing the Reds’ forward from having his usual impact on the game. Regularly moving forward to provide an outlet when Raheem Sterling moved infield, he was always a threat to the Liverpool defence.
That is a welcome development for City as the left-back position was quickly becoming a weak link in the lineup for opponents to exploit. It remains to be seen what will happen when Mendy returns from injury. Guardiola’s choice of Cancelo rather than the natural left-back in City’s crucial Champions League fixture against Lyon last term despite the Frenchman being fit says a lot.