Manchester City certainly aren’t resting on their laurels when it comes to defending their Premier League title.
Pep Guardiola’s men will be looking to win England’s top flight for a third consecutive year while also securing the club’s first ever Champions League trophy, and are making moves in the transfer market to strengthen their star-studded squad.
There could be a spanner in the works though, with reports emerging that Bayern Munich have overtaken City in the race for the Portuguese defender and that Barcelona have joined the list of club’s after his signature.
The Sky Blues may well be forced into a last-minute rethink if they miss out on their primary target, raising the question of who could be a suitable alternative to Cancelo?
An assessment of the defender’s performances in Serie A last season may be the best way to fully understand exactly what kind of player the former Benfica and Valencia man is, and identify a selection of players who could fill the vacant right-back slot in the Manchester City dressing room…
A forward-thinking full-back with uncurbed attacking instincts
If we compare Cancelo to the other defenders in Italy’s top flight during 2018/19 then his attacking instincts immediately become apparent. The Portuguese international leads the way when it comes to dribbling statistics – attempting the second most dribbles per 90 minutes (3.88), and having the best dribbling completion rate in the league at an average of 2.79.
The right-back’s forward-thinking nature is also reaffirmed by his involvement in the opposition half of the pitch. He had 2.19 touches per 90 minutes in the opposition penalty area, which is the seventh most of any Serie A defender, and completed the fifth most attacking half passes at 28.59 per 90 minutes.
Even Cancelo’s defensive statistics reflect the time that he spends in attacking positions, winning the ball back in the final third of the pitch an average of 0.45 times per game – only bettered by four top-flight defenders in Italy.
There’s an end product to the Juventus man’s attacking instincts too. His three assists from open play see him ranked seventh among Serie A’s defenders (at 0.13 per 90 minutes played), and his cross completion of 1.14 per 90 minutes is inside the division's top ten.
It seems clear then that Guardiola is most likely targeting a right-back who attempts and completes a high number of dribbles and crosses, and likes to get involved in the final third of the pitch.
With that in mind, there are three players who could appeal to the Citizens’ boss, if he’s unable to secure a deal for Cancelo this summer…
Peter Ankersen (FC København)
If Manchester City are only looking for cover for Kyle Walker then they could do a lot worse than bringing Danish international right-back Peter Ankersen to the Etihad Stadium.
The 28-year-old returned to his home country in 2015 after a brief spell with Red Bull Salzburg and has been enjoying life at FC København, winning three Superliga titles since joining the club.
An impressive 2018/19 season saw Ankersen mirror many of the traits seen in Cancelo’s play over the same period. He recorded the third most assists of any defender in the Danish top flight (0.23 per 90 minutes) and completed the fifth highest number of crosses at 1.38 per 90 minutes.
The right-back is good with the ball at his feet too, and attempted an average of 1.98 dribbles per game – the fifth best of any defender – completing an average of 1.03 for every 90 minutes played; only six Superliga defenders topped that in 2018/19.
The similarities to Cancelo don’t stop there. Ankersen completed more passes in the opposition half than any other full-back or centre-back (30.09 per 90 minutes) and had the second most touches in the opposition penalty area (3.37 per 90 minutes).
While he may play in one of Europe’s less heralded divisions, Ankersen could certainly be a player worth considering if City miss out on their number one target ahead of next season.
Mário Fernandes (CSKA Moscow)
Fernandes is perhaps best known for his unorthodox international career, which saw him play one match for Brazil before switching his allegiance to Russia and playing in the 2018 World Cup for the host nation. But could he also be the perfect right-back for City?
The statistics certain indicate that this could be the case. He is inside the top twnety Russian Premier League defenders for all of the metrics that we highlighted as Cancelo’s strengths last season, but particularly excelled in three areas.
He had the most assists from open play (0.25 per 90 minutes), the highest number of touches in the opposition box (3.51 per 90 minutes), and won back possession in the final third at an average of 0.51 times per game – the second most of any defender in Russia.
After seven full seasons at CSKA Moscow the 28-year-old might feel that now is a good time to test himself in one of Europe’s elite divisions, and would surely welcome any approach from a top Premier League side like City.
They would certainly be wise to consider an attacking full-back of Fernandes’ calibre.
Denzel Dumfries (PSV Eindhoven)
The Dutch national team is packed with young talents like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, but one member of their side that’s often overlooked is 23-year-old right-back Dumfries.
The PSV Eindhoven star has won five caps for his country since making his debut in October 2018, and enjoyed an impressive season in 2018/19 despite his club narrowly missing out on the Eredivisie title.
Dumfries is being heralded for his attacking prowess and had more touches in the opposition box (3.97 per 90 minutes) than all other defenders in the Dutch top flight. He also came within the top ten defensive players for dribbles attempted (2.32 per 90 minutes) and dribbles completed (1.29 per 90 minutes), but had less impressive statistics when it came to completing crosses and winning possession in the final third.
The former Sparta Rotterdam and SC Heerenveen man’s stats don’t quite tally as closely to that Cancelo, despite a number of similarities. However Dumfries is significantly younger than both Ankersen and Fernandes, so has the potential to develop under Guardiola’s tutorship.
He could certainly be one to watch for the future, whether he ends up in Manchester or elsewhere next season.