Manchester City have a new Assist King? How Guardiola transformed his defender’s game


Manchester City have a new Assist King? How Guardiola transformed his defender’s game

Five assists in the last two games have made João Cansela the most talked about player in Manchester City. But back in the spring of 2020, England called the transfer to Kansel a failure, and the press regularly wrote about Man City’s readiness to part with him.

Kanselu stayed and by the winter of 2021 had become one of the most important players in Manchester City. What has changed during this period and what decisions have Guardiola made to help Cancel become more effective?

Rotten start at Manchester City after losing competition to Walker

Even when the main performer is great in his position, coaches still find it necessary to sign another player for the same position. Everything is done to avoid stagnation. One of the most recent striking examples is Luke Shaw at Manchester United. The left-back initially lost the fight to rookie Alex Telles, but eventually ousted him from the main squad.

Pep Guardiola did the same when he signed a rival for Kyle Walker on the right side of the defense. In the summer of 2019, Manchester City parted ways with Danilo, who left for Juventus, and signed João Canselo. His transfer cost Man City € 60 million, making Kancela the world’s most expensive full-back at the time.

Rapid adaptation did not work out. During the 2019/20 season, Kanselu only appeared in the starting lineup in Premier League matches 11 times. Walker was spurred on by the competition, which he won outright (28 league matches in the starting lineup). Kanselu’s specialty is also the ability to play on the left flank. But there, too, it was cramped – Mendy played while he was healthy, and in his absence, Alexander Zinchenko was responsible for the left edge.

Guardiola was in no hurry to trust Cansel to perform in important matches. It all started small – fully played meetings in the early stages of the League Cup (90 minutes each with Port Vale, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday). But already in the quarterfinals with Newcastle, Canselo appeared only 19 minutes, and the semifinals with Arsenal sat on the bench.

A similar story happened in the FA Cup. In the semifinals, Man City met with Manchester United. In the first meeting, Man City achieved a 3-1 victory – Canselu watched the team’s success from the bench. Guardiola released him for the return leg but ignored him in the final against Aston Villa. The only positive thing for Cancelo this season is the Champions League. He played six out of nine matches in the starting lineup, including against Real Madrid and Lyon. True, Man City stumbled on the French club and did not go beyond the quarterfinals, which prompted Guardiola to think about changing tactics.

In the meantime, Kanselu’s position remained precarious. By winter, there was talk of interest from various clubs. AS wrote about the desire of “Valencia” to return Cansela. Barcelona were ready to exchange him for Semeda, and Manchester City were ready to include in the deal for Inter defender Alessandro Bastogne.

Guardiola hoped that Canselo would stay at the club for a long time, but he emphasized that no one would be forcibly held. And the decision on the future was left to the player himself. And Canselo stayed on to become one of Manchester City’s most effective players.

Guardiola made a tactical overhaul. Kanselu began to fulfill two roles

In the 2020/21 season, Manchester City did not start well. It got to the point that in the 11th round at home they drew with West Bromwich, which by that time had scored only six points and lived in the relegation zone. At the end of the tour, Man City dropped to sixth place, and the gap from the leading Liverpool was five points.

After this failure, Fernandinho, as a leader, took the floor in the locker room and spoke in a raised voice with his teammates. Guardiola did not stand aside, but worked out tactical changes.

According to Guardiola, they have been brewing for a long time. The first signal was the defeat at Lyon, and the next – 2: 5 at Leicester at the Etihad. Guests easily fled to counterattacks, taking advantage of the high location of the hosts.

Guardiola analyzed the pros and cons of high blocking. On the one hand, most of the game takes place in the opponent’s half. Controlling the ball minimizes your opponent’s chances of regularly creating chances. But this approach requires high performing skills and precision in transmission. In the 2019/20 season, Manchester City lost David Silva, who returned to Spain.

The opponents adapted to the style of Manchester City, caught on mistakes and ran away in counterattacks. Guardiola didn’t like the fact that his team had to “run a lot.”

Man City, as before, started the matches 4-3-3. When the ball was in the team, it rebuilt to 3-2-5. Two midfielders moved into the attacking line, and Kansel came to the aid of Rodri, who remained in the center. Walker remained in the top three with Dias and the Stones.

The changes were beneficial – Manchester City won 13 matches in a row and conceded only four of them. In the attacking line, the changes in tactics best affected Ilkay Gundogan, who for the first time in his career scored 10+ goals in a season. Gundogan was the first in the history of Man City to be named the best player of the month in the Premier League two times in a row.

The second player whose progress in winter 2020 was noted by experts was Kanselu. Guardiola appreciated his willingness to adapt to any requirement. Walker still did not allow competitors to enter his position, so Kanselu began to appear on the left flank. Mendy and Zinchenko increasingly gave way to him in the first team. At the same time, Kanselu proved to be effective not only as a classic line-maker, but also as a midfielder actively involved in creation.

Manchester City have a new Assist King? How Guardiola transformed his defender's game

Heatmap of Canselu’s 2019/20 Action

Manchester City have a new Assist King? How Guardiola transformed his defender's game

Heatmap of Kanselu touches in the 2020/21 season

Wing-backs have grown in importance at Man City

In October, The Athletic analysts discovered a trend – over the past two years, Manchester City’s full-backs have become the leader in terms of the number of touches.

Between 2016 and 2019, there was only one full-back in the top 5 touches among Man City players – Walker had 7978 touches. According to this indicator, Walker was inferior to Otamendi, Silva, De Bruyne and Fernandinho.

The situation has changed over the past two years. In the period from 2020 to 2021, Rodri (3794), Dias (3678), Kanselu (3473) and Walker (2694) entered the top 5 in terms of the number of touches. Only then come Gundogan, Silva and De Bruyne.

Guardiola has been actively involved with full-backs before. Between 2016 and 2019, Zinchenko (116.04) and Delph (106.29) were Man City leaders in terms of the average number of touches per 90 minutes.

The new roles and tasks of the full-backs affected their involvement in the team’s play. The changes helped Manchester City advance to the Champions League final for the first time. In possession of the ball, Guardiola used two defensive blocks in case of counterattacks. The first is 3-2-5, when one of the full-backs (usually Kanselu) climbed higher in a pair to Rodri.

Another option is to play with two defenders and three midfielders. With this arrangement, the two center-backs remained in their positions, and the wingers formed a three with Rodri in the center.

Manchester City have a new Assist King? How Guardiola transformed his defender's game

With the reversal of roles, Kanselu and Walker have increased the percentage of touches of the total touches of all Man City players per match. For the period 2016-20, the Canselo average is 10.9%. In the past two years, it has grown to 11.4% (for Walker – from 11.7% to 11.9%).

But Canselu’s effectiveness did not end with the team’s greater involvement and shifting into midfield to help Rodri in breaking up the opposition’s counterattacks. Kanselu also added to the creation. In the last two matches, Kanselu gave five assists, but progress was noticeable even last season. By February 2020, Kanselu was among the top players in terms of pre-goal assists (4). Only Jack Grealish (5) and James Rodriguez (7) gave more at that time.

Also last season, Kanselu was in the top 5 for the most expected assists from the field (3.83). Only Mohamed Salah (4.23), Jack Grealish (5.42) and Bruno Fernandes (5.81) have more. In addition, Kanselu became the leader of Manchester City in terms of involvement in sequences (play combinations during which the team gives four or more passes). In an average of 90 minutes, Kanselu was involved in 57.6 sequences. Rodri has a figure of 56.2. And De Bruyne has 48.7.

In fact, Manchester City’s game was largely at the mercy of Canselu. Guardiola was always aware of his flexibility and understood that Cansel only needed time: “By nature, he is one of the most private players on the current squad. I understood that it was worth the wait, each player goes through the adaptation period differently. ”

Kanselu thanked the coach for the individual approach. In a recent interview, he noted how Guardiola opened up new sides in him and helped bring his playing qualities to a higher level.

This is also evidenced by the numbers. The Athletic compared Canselo’s performance to several Bayern and Barcelona players under Guardiola. The players were taken into account, who, on average, made 50 successful passes in 90 minutes, made two selections and created two chances.

There were five of them – in addition to Canselu, these are Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dani Alves. Kanselu lost to everyone in terms of the percentage of accurate passes (64.3%), and tackles (2.1 – the same for Schweinsteiger. The leader is Thiago with 3.7). And in terms of the number of created moments, Kanselu is on a par with everyone else – 2.1.

Over the past year and a half, Kanselu’s role in Manchester City has blurred. Now he cannot be called exclusively an extreme defender – he is equally a midfielder, equally effective at acting in destruction and creation.

Guardiola gave Cansel time and revealed his best qualities that benefit the team here and now. Canselo has gone through a difficult period of adaptation to become one of the most important players in modern Manchester City.

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