Pinch yourself, it’s real. João Cancelo is headed to Bayern Munich. It may just be on loan, but it’s huge nonetheless. This deal may seem iffy to a lot of people. I’ve heard people say it smells of desperation from Bayern, and that Manchester City may know something Bayern don’t. I can assure you these notions are founded upon the usual Bayern transfer paranoia, as Cancelo is being shipped out due to systemic incongruency, not a lack of quality.
Here’s why Bayern could do very well with him, now and even in the future.
Straight into the starting XI
João Cancelo is one of the best fullbacks in the world. If for nothing else, this deal works simply based on the calibre of player that is being added to the squad. If you asked me anytime during the 21/22 season all the way up until October who the best full back in the world is, I would’ve said Cancelo without skipping a beat (if you don’t believe me, feel free to check out my power rankings from those months where Cancelo was a regular feature). Cancelo is insanely well-rounded, the most well-rounded of all our full backs, and in a lot of qualities he is the very best. There should be no doubt that fitness forbidding, he is a starter. To get a player of this quality for no fee during the crucial phase of the season is remarkable.
Present in Paris
For the second season in a row, Bayern’s most consistent full back has found himself suffering from the after-effects of COVID-19. Noussair Mazraoui has come down with a case of pericarditis, a condition that means he will not play against Paris Saint-Germain in the all-important round of 16 Champions League game on Valentine’s Day. While Cancelo’s presence in this game alone is massive, it extends to every game Bayern play. The quality of player past Mazraoui in this position, while better than most clubs, is not up to the standard Julian Nagelsmann demands. Furthermore, after the reckless handling of Mazraoui’s health by the Moroccan national team’s medical staff at the World Cup, his condition could be much worse than the 4-6 weeks that has been initially reported. Cancelo could well be required to play consistently for the remainder of the season if that’s what it takes for Mazraoui to fully recover.
El Plan: Nagelsmann’s recipe
Nagelsmann’s Bayern defense is one that functions asymmetrically. While Alphonso Davies on the left bombs forward as a traditional overlapping wing back, the right side is very different. Mazraoui was observed inverting into the middle to aid Joshua Kimmich in the build-up as a central presence while Leon Goretzka pushed further up the pitch. However, in Mazraoui’s absence, Benjamin Pavard and Josip Stanišić have both failed to have the same effect, lacking the abilities Mazraoui has to progress the ball with his ability in tight spaces and game intelligence (although Stanišić must be noted for his exceptional intelligence on the pitch too).
Mazraoui is safely in the very top tier of right backs in the world, and while inverting there is only one player in the world I can say is better than him. That player is none other than João Cancelo himself. Cancelo may not be as gifted defensively as Mazraoui or as good in the dribble, but Cancelo is gifted with amazing passing range. Kimmich finally has a player who can sit back and shield the defense while playing long balls rather than having to do the job himself. Cancelo is used to this system too, having done the same at City which allowed Rodri to get into more advanced positions. This didn’t work as effectively as you may expect because Rodri is not very adept in the final third, but we are all well aware of Kimmich’s ability to play dangerous killer balls and take shots from distance (just ask FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt).
As a fun prediction, I will let the record preserve my theory that I think Goretzka’s performances will be massively re-contextualised with the introduction of Cancelo into the team, and that the German will be perceived as a positive force once again.
What do you think of João Cancelo’s move to Bayern? Is it too good to be true? Is this the missing piece of the puzzle? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion below.