Versatile, tactically astute and boasting the creativity of a midfield playmaker, Joao Cancelo is a one-of-a-kind defender who is proving to be Manchester’s City unlikely secret weapon this season.
Borussia Monchengladbach certainly couldn’t handle the Portugal international in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Two pinpoint and almost-identical crosses from Cancelo — City’s roving full back — set up goals for Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus in a 2-0 win for the Premier League leaders in a one-sided first leg in the last 16.
Make that 19 straight wins in all competitions for City, whose squad depth is such that Pep Guardiola had the luxury of leaving star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne on the bench against Gladbach in a match taking place in Budapest because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Given the delivery of Cancelo, who needs De Bruyne?
“He is so clever,” Guardiola said of Cancelo, who has been something of a pet project for the City manager this season. “He gives us something special in our process of play.”
Seeking to push more players into offensive positions, Guardiola has devised a system that enables the technically gifted Cancelo to drift from full back into a deep-lying midfield role to supplement City attacks.
It was no surprise, therefore, to see Cancelo in the right position to intercept a poor pass out from the back by Gladbach’s midfield anchorman, Christoph Kramer, in the 29th minute and then pick out Silva with an inswinging cross to the back post. The diminutive Silva headed the ball firmly across the goalkeeper and into the net.