Pep's perfect full-back? Classy Cancelo leads Manchester City back to the top of the Premier League

Cancelo Guardiola Manchester City 2021
The Portuguese defender offered further evidence of his remarkable resurgence by scoring one goal and creating another in the 5-0 rout of West Brom

West Brom 0-5 Man City: Match statistics

There were times during his first season at Manchester City that Joao Cancelo appeared completely lost but the Portuguese defender now looks right at home at the top of the Premier League.

After struggling during his debut season in England, the former Juventus man is finally showing the quality which many predicted would make him the perfect Pep Guardiola full-back.

Indeed, in Tuesday night's 5-0 rout of West Brom, the classy Cancelo did a passable impression of Kevin De Bruyne in creating Ilkay Gundogan's sixth-minute opener with a through ball that the great Belgian playmaker would have been proud of. 

Gundogan deserves credit for the way he took his goal, with the in-form midfielder checking back inside before coolly finishing from the edge of the box, but the pass from Cancelo was pure class, with the 26-year-old bending the ball in behind the Baggies defence.

Then, 14 minutes later, Cancelo got his own name on the scoresheet, finding the top corner with a beautiful curling effort with his left foot that left Sam Johnstone stranded.

He could have had even more assists too. A pass to Raheem Sterling was intercepted by the toe of a West Brom defender, while another inviting low cross was so nearly turned in by Phil Foden at the far post.

We shouldn't have been surprised by this stellar showing, of course. It was just the most spectacular in a long run of fine displays that has marked Cancelo out as one of Guardiola’s key men.

Joao Cancelo Manchester City West Brom GFX

He started as a right-back against West Brom, with Kyle Walker out injured, but he has been just as influential as the first choice on the left-side ahead of Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

No matter what side he is positioned on, his role is far more complex than that of a simple full-back.

Cancelo spends much of his time in the centre of the pitch as an auxiliary midfielder, linking the play and helping to pull opponents into uncomfortable areas.

"When we have the ball, he plays a bit of a different role, he plays in the middle a bit more, gets more touches and he has the quality to put in these balls and I knew it," Gundogan told BT Sport. "That is why I made the run. The ball was perfect.

"He is doing well. Everyone is doing well, him especially in the last few weeks, and we need this rhythm to maintain our level."

Like many of Guardiola’s signings, Cancelo took time to get used to the Catalan's methods. Remember, Bernardo Silva also took a year to acclimatise before exploding into life during his second season.

Cancelo's integration was made more difficult by what was a testing and underwhelming 2019-20 campaign for City but he now looks perfectly at ease, no doubt enjoying the fact that he is playing close to international team-mates Bernardo and Ruben Dias.

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His increased importance was made clear when Guardiola turned to him to help City avoid a humiliating FA Cup fourth-round loss to Cheltenham. Trailing the League Two side by a goal, Cancelo was introduced as a 77th-minute substitute and, just four minutes later, teed up Phil Foden for the equaliser with a pin-point cross.

City suffered from no such complacency at The Hawthorns, though, exhibiting the kind of ruthlessness that underpinned their two title triumphs under Guardiola as they extended their winning streak to 11 games with a devastating display of efficiency.

Despite being shorn of the services of De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, City produced a complete performance that will have the title rivals worried that they are back to their unstoppable best - and now with an additional threat posed by Cancelo.