João Cancelo started and played 90 minutes for Manchester City yesterday, for just the twelfth time in the Premier League. Cancelo, who put in a terrific shift operating as a left-back, has often been a point of discussion this season particularly in regards to his lack of game time under Pep Guardiola and possible unhappiness in Manchester.
The 26-year-old Portuguese international arrived at the Etihad from Juventus in a deal that saw City pay €30 million and Danilo move in the opposite direction. Brought in as an alternative to the 30-year-old Kyle Walker, Cancelo for all his obvious versatility and footballing talent hasn’t managed to displace Walker in his preferred right-back position. The general consensus appeared to be that Cancelo and Pep hadn’t got off to the best of starts and the full-back was then linked to several clubs before his Man City career had even appeared to get going.
However, things are beginning to look up for Cancelo at the Etihad and if Pep Guardiola’s latest comments are anything to go by, he sees him as a valuable option going into next season.
Speaking to journalists after Manchester City’s 4-0 victory over Watford, the Spanish coach had this to say: “The most incredible thing from João is now he is a completely different individual from when he arrived. We need time to understand each other, him to me and the team and me to him too…What I want is his behaviour that he is doing after the restart.” Pep then went on to say: “Unfortunately for us, when we came back to restart he was the best player in the training session and was incredible, and unfortunately he had a little problem on the dangerous part of his leg and he was stopped for a while, but all I want with João is this happiness in the training session, and a relationship with his teammates because we know the quality that he has…With his happiness in the training sessions, he is going to help us a lot in the next seasons. He understands us better than the beginning and we understand him better.”
Encouraging words from his coach and Cancelo will now be feeling confident about another place in the starting XI next time out against Norwich and also about his possible involvement in the second leg against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.