How do you stop Cancelo? Man City's unpredictable playmaker re-defining the full-back role

Joao Cancelo Manchester City 2020-21
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The Portugal international helped to create both goals as Pep Guardiola's side beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 in the Champions League

Match statistics: Borussia Monchengladbach 0-2 Manchester City

When UEFA released the official team sheet for Manchester City's clash with Borussia Monchengladbach, it listed Joao Cancelo as playing at left-back for Pep Guardiola's side.

To the European governing body's credit, the Portugal international did at least spend some time there in Bucharest.

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That is the problem for opposition teams who come up against City when Cancelo is in the side - his role is almost beyond definition and nigh on impossible to defend against.

The former Juventus man is given the freedom by Guardiola to drift all over the pitch, adding an extra body to City's midfield as they aim to suffocate opposition teams with their possession-based game.

A number of coaches from around the continent will have been watching Wednesday's last 16 first-leg pondering how they go about cutting out the threat posed by City's new playmaking full-back.

Liverpool have already tried and failed once during their 4-1 defeat at Anfield earlier this month, and here Marco Rose - who is set to follow in Jurgen Klopp's footsteps and take over at Borussia Dortmund next season - had no answers as his Gladbach side succumbed to City's dominance.

Ironically, Cancelo's two main attacking contributions came when he found himself back in his more natural role out wide.

Bernardo Silva Manchester City 2020-21

Firstly he laid on Bernardo Silva's opening goal as he picked up the ball from Matthias Ginter's loose clearance before cutting inside to deliver an inch-perfect cross onto the head of his Portuguese compatriot.

City then doubled their lead in the 65th minute with an almost identical goal, as Cancelo once again sent over an in-swinging far-post cross in search of Bernardo, who this time headed it into the path of Gabriel Jesus to poke in.

"He's an amazing player," Bernardo told BT Sport of Cancelo after the game. "I played with him for seven years when I was at Benfica and we're from the same generation. I know him very well.

"The connection is good as well. He knows my timing and I know how good he is on these balls. His passing qualities and overall as a player he's had a great season, and I'm very happy for him".

Cancelo's freedom does not mean that he can shirk his defensive responsibilities, though.

Gladbach rarely threatened in what was a home fixture on neutral ground, but when Stefan Lainer did try to stretch City’s defence, it was Cancelo that was furthest back to cut out a potential killer pass.

He then switched to the right-hand side for what was a slight worrying moment in the final 10 minutes when Jonas Hofmaan went down in the box looking for a penalty. Replays showed, however, that Cancelo's challenge was perfect.

Manchester City celebrate 2020-21

The 26-year-old is fast becoming one of Guardiola’s most influential figures, with his performance both ensuring that Kevin De Bruyne was not needed off the bench while also helping to maintain City's impressive defensive run.

It is now 616 minutes since City last conceded a Champions League goal as they became the first team to keep a clean sheet in their first four European away matches of a season since Manchester United in 2010-11.

Gladbach had only failed to score twice in a match all season, but against City they did not force a save from Ederson until Hannes Wolf’s shot with the very last kick of the game.

City’s resurgence this season has been built on the strength of their defence, and Guardiola would have been furious if they had slipped up at the end of the first leg, particularly as Jesus and Raheem Sterling spurned chances to win the game by even a bigger margin.

It is now 19 successive wins in all competitions for City, and a record 12th consecutive away wins for an English top-flight side too.

A place in the Champions League quarter-finals looks all but assured. Whether they can finally go on and win the competition may well depend on whether anyone can stop Cancelo.

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