Joao Cancelo has established himself as a regular under Pep Guardiola so far this season and his performance against Newcastle United on Boxing Day emphasises that he is quickly becoming the Spanish manager’s most important player at Manchester City.
The Portuguese right-back, who was signed from Juventus in the summer of 2019, struggled for regular game time in his first full season with the Citizens, making just 17 appearances in the Premier League, with Kyle Walker regularly keeping him out of the side.
However, this season, the 26-year-old has been a mainstay in the City team, having made 10 appearances in the top-flight, averaging a superb 7.28 WhoScored rating.
This is enough to rank him as City’s second-best performer in the Premier League, behind Kevin De Bruyne.
Guardiola has found a way to accommodate both Cancelo and Walker, with the Portuguese international regularly featuring as a left-back but recently, he has been preferred to the Englishman at right-back.
With the former Tottenham Hotspur man missing the Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United, Cancelo was trusted to start at right-back and he produced another sensational display which was a testament to just how important he has become under Guardiola.
He was given license to push a lot further forward throughout the game and produced a creative display that De Bruyne would have been proud of, as he made three key passes and had a role to play in both goals, with his pass to Raheem Sterling leading to Ilkay Gundogan’s opener, whilst his cross found its way, via a defender, to Ferran Torres for City’s second.
The right-back was unfortunate not to pick up more assists, however, as both Sterling and Sergio Aguero squandered excellent chances after pinpoint crosses from the Portuguese international.
Following the game, Guardiola was full of praise for Cancelo, saying:
“He’s a player with incredible quality. His regeneration, physicality is incredible. He could play tomorrow!”
Whilst Walker missed this match after testing positive, it seems unlikely that he will reclaim his starting spot in Guardiola’s side if Cancelo keeps up this current form, unless he switches back to left-back in future matches.
Either way, Saturday’s masterclass really emphasises just how important Cancelo has become in this City side of late, which could well spell trouble for Walker’s long-term future at right-back.