Xtra Analysis: Joao Cancelo

His bag were packed, seriously I must add, and now after a summer of speculation, Manchester City have completed the signing of João Cancelo from Juventus. The Italian joins City for a fee in the region of £28 million with Danilo heading in the opposite direction – bringing the total package with the Brazilian’s value to the £65 million mark. So, what can our new signing bring to the already star-studded Manchester City squad?

Despite winning back-to-back league titles for the first time in the club’s history, the strength of the full-backs available remained an issue for Pep Guardiola, and in the last two years the club has spent big on full-backs: with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo joining the club. However, the reliability of having a fresh, fully fit left-back remained a major issue. Benjamin Mendy has struggled with two serious injuries since arriving from Monaco in 2017, however, when the Frenchman is fit, he has usually been solid defensively and lethal going forward. The World Cup winner’s injury problems had forced Guardiola to play Fabian Delph, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back throughout the last two seasons. However, despite Zinchenko’s excellent performances throughout the 2018/19 campaign, which earned him a new three year deal, the boss is still in search of improving his options at full-back.

Enter João Cancelo.

Also fresh off signing a bumper five-year contract at the club, Kyle Walker looks set to continue his stay at City for the foreseeable future. The pacey right-back had an excellent debut campaign at the club winning the Premier League whilst also making the PFA team of the year and his second season at City was also solid aside from a rough patch mid-season. The England international is a key asset defensively and the experienced defender is well suited to playing Guardiola’s style of football, however, Cancelo’s arrival will present Walker with some real competition in the form of a player just as athletic as Walker but also more technically-gifted and better going forward.

The Portuguese international is four years younger than Kyle Walker and João Cancelo is a signing who could feature in the City side for many years. In theory, Cancelo’s presence at the club will push Walker to improve his performances at the risk of being usurped as City’s first choice right-back.

Regardless of the full-back talent already at City, Guardiola desired a more technically adept defender, one who is skilful, fast and a threat going forward whilst also being defensively capable, a player experienced at the highest level and a player who can competently play in multiple positions when called upon. And Txiki Begiristain delivered his man.

(Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)


Born in Barreiro, Portugal, João Cancelo began his career at Benfica prior to signing for La Liga side Valencia, and following a successful few seasons in Spain, Cancelo went on to represent Inter Milan and Juventus in Italy. The right-back has been capped by Portugal 14 times after impressing at a string of top teams and the full-back has shown himself to be a versatile, technically gifted player able to operate at both right-wing and left-back as well as his preferred position of right-back.

Following an impressive season in which he played in 34 matches for the Old Lady, Manchester City were willing to pay around £60 million in total in order to secure the Portuguese’s signature.

A solid full-back coming into the club has been deemed necessary as it is the club’s ambition to attempt to win every available competition, and only through strength in depth is the club able to achieve this. The signing of the Portuguese international will further strengthen the squad and greatly assist City’s unrivalled ambition.

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A versatile defender capable of playing at both right-back and left-back, João Cancelo will offer Guardiola an additional top-quality option regarding his team selections. The energetic Portuguese’s fitness and strong work-rate is also a key trait that Pep desires for his players to possess and City’s full-backs typically work tirelessly throughout the ninety minutes in every fixture.

One of the Portuguese international’s key assets is his blistering pace, and similarly to Kyle Walker, Cancelo’s speed allows him to cover ground quickly in order to snuff out opposition counter-attacks, this is important to Guardiola who commands that his team maintains possession of the ball in the opposition half and to quickly reclaim possession when it is lost.

Without possession, pressing is a major component of Guardiola’s style of play and Cancelo’s tenacity combined with his agility and acceleration would be a major asset regarding winning the ball back as quickly as possible. Aside from Kyle Walker, Cancelo is much quicker than City’s other options at full-back, meaning Cancelo’s speed should allow City to press the ball much quicker, to Guardiola’s delight.

Alike many Portuguese full-backs such as Barcelona’s Nelson Semedo and Napoli’s Mario Rui, Cancelo is more known for his attacking qualities than his defensive contributions. Cancelo is occasionally seen to be defensively fragile, often losing challenges that he ought to be winning, however, it is evident that the Portuguese player has improved his defensive capabilities in recent years, alas, Cancelo is still young and he will only continue to evolve defensively under Pep Guardiola.

(Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)


During his time in Spain and Italy, João Cancelo has built a reputation as a great crosser of the ball and a potent attacking threat. The Portuguese international had 5 Série A assists in 25 appearances during the 2018/19 season, whereas Kyle Walker only had 1 assist to his name in 33 Premier League appearances. Walker’s poor and often frustrating deliveries in the previous campaign leave a lot to be desired and Guardiola will hope that the signing of Cancelo will improve the attacking proficiency of City’s full-backs whilst also causing Walker to step up and develop his crossing at the risk of losing his place in the team.

João Cancelo is similar to City left-back Benjamin Mendy, regarding being an elite crosser of the ball, and like Mendy, Cancelo often prefers to stay wide and cross as opposed to playing the ball inside. The Portuguese is more than capable of successfully taking on defenders before firing in an accurate cross, and should the Frenchman stay fit (fingers crossed), the two deadly crossers of the ball in Mendy and Cancelo will surely devastate defences for years to come.

A strong relationship between the full-back and the winger is paramount to a team being effective when attacking out-wide and given João Cancelo’s experience playing on the right flank with Bernardo Silva, they could become a force to be reckoned with. Cancelo came through Benfica’s academy at the same time as Silva before then going on to play with the latter at both Benfica and the Portugal national team. Cancelo and Silva are both naturally right-sided players and will have instant chemistry in Manchester, and the two of them on the right flank may be soon become a robust feature of the City team.

Cancelo’s excellent overlapping runs have become a notable aspect of his game during his time in Serie A, and should he continue to perform as an overlapping full-back, he will surely be a threat in the Premier League. Cancelo’s energetic overlapping runs often drag defenders out of position, this, in turn, creates space for the attacking players around him. The dynamic full-back often terrorises his opposition with his direct running, blistering speed and first-rate technical ability and he will be a fantastic addition to an already very accomplished squad.


In his two years in Serie A, João Cancelo built a reputation as a fantastic dribbler of the ball, the agile defender possesses excellent technique and has often showcased his ability to run directly at, and then successfully take-on defending players. Cancelo enjoyed an excellent start to his Juventus career and by December, the Portuguese international had an average of 2.9 successful dribbles per game in his first ten Serie A fixtures, and this superb trend continued throughout the rest of the campaign.


At 5 foot 11 inches, and physically stronger than the average full-back, João Cancelo possesses the height and strength required to win the ball in the air, a key trait for any defender. Cancelo also possesses devastating speed and impressive stamina meaning that he can get forward quickly to assist a City attack and is also able to rapidly get back and defend when possession is conceded.

A natural athlete, João Cancelo began his career at Benfica as a right-winger, however, he was soon converted to right-back after coaches noticed his impressive stamina and natural tackling ability. Cancelo is a player who possesses raw pace and bags of stamina and combined with an excellent work-rate Cancelo is almost custom made to play full-back at the highest level. Especially under Pep Guardiola.

(Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

Why He’ll Be A Star

If Pep Guardiola was to design the ideal full-back it would look like João Cancelo; A pure athlete with pace to burn who is capable of operating either side of the defence, an excellent dribbler possessing great technique and a dynamo going forward. Cancelo will be a fantastic asset at City and he will surely add to his trophy cabinet in the coming years.

Rumours in recent weeks is that Guardiola has been trailing a 3-5-2 system in training. If this were to come to fruition, Benjamin Mendy and João Cancelo would be tailor made for the wingback roles. We’ve seen City use this system before, most notably in City’s 5-0 win at home against Liverpool in 2017, and in the 6-1 demolition of Huddersfield last season. In the latter, Mendy bagged three assists, two to Agüero and one to Jesus. With both of them deployed in this system, our attackers could benefit hugely in terms of goal tally’s.


With João Cancelo joining Manchester City this summer, it signals Danilo’s departure from the club as the Brazilian was involved in a player-plus-cash deal with Juventus. Danilo has won 5 trophies since his arrival from Real Madrid in 2017 and with the surplus of full-backs at the club, he has found his playtime limited and is moving onto pastures new. Obrigado Dani, and good luck in Turin!

The fee for João Cancelo is by no means a small amount, however, City’s signings in recent years have mostly been successful, therefore it would be wise to trust in the City hierarchy’s decisions regarding this transfer. This season, Pep Guardiola will be looking to ensure that his City side will be strong enough to win a third consecutive English League title and challenge on the Champions League stage.

To accomplish the dominance that Pep craves, the boss will need to prevent his talented squad from getting complacent, this can hopefully be accomplished by signing hard-working young players who are hungry for success as João Cancelo and Atletico Madrid’s Rodri. Guardiola will also be looking to win his first Champions League title since 2011 and he would not wish to bring in any player whom he believes will not improve his team. City signing of Cancelo will only be because Pep believes that the Portuguese international is able to elevate his squad to the next level.

In joining Manchester City, João Cancelo will have the opportunity to fulfil the potential he has flaunted since his Valencia days and he may one day become the best right-back in the world.

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