Canadians Abroad Roundup: Davies, David make history in Champions League

Bayern's Alphonso Davies controls the ball during the Champions League group E soccer match between Dynamo Kyiv and Bayern Munich, at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

It's easy to be swept up by the never-ending superlatives surrounding Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. When Davies became the first Canadian male player to lift the UEFA Champions League in 2020, that was a massive deal. Jonathan David's transfer to Lille from Gent for a record-setting fee was transcendent.

It was a sign of the times in Canadian soccer.

Fast forward more than a year, and there are two Canadian male players in the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time.

While Davies and Bayern are considered perennial contenders, and will be expected to eliminate Red Bull Salzburg in the round of 16, it's a significantly different story for David's Lille.

The defending Ligue 1 champions are struggling this season. Coach Christophe Galtier departed for Nice, Jocelyn Gourvennec replaced him and has Les Dogues six points adrift of the Champions League places. Yet it's that very same competition where Gourvennec and his squad are redeeming themselves.

David has been a leading figure during the team's run. All three of his goals were either equalizers or match winners as they topped Group G following Wednesday's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg. The 21-year-old was especially dominant during that second half in midweek.

That's now 14 goals for David in all competitions this season, which already eclipses last year's total.

Part of the reason why he's been so prolific is down to David attempting more shots. The Canadian striker averaged 2.1 attempts and 4.89 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 last season. That's increased to 2.27 and 5.23 per 90, respectively, in 2021-22. His shot map below also highlights the quality of those chances.

It's no wonder why David has registered an absurdly high 0.24 expected goals (xG) per shot and 0.6 xG per 90 in Ligue 1 and the Champions League combined.

With Arsenal reportedly tracking the young striker and Liverpool linked as well, more clubs will surely enter the sweepstakes, even if Lille's Champions League run ends during the round of 16 versus Chelsea.

Thankfully for Canadian fans, Davies should make another deep run in the competition and continue to fulfill a key role in Julian Nagelsmann's side.

The group-stage finale against Barcelona was another fantastic showing from the young full-back. Like David, Davies slowly worked his way into the match during the opening 45 minutes before exploding in the second half, capped off by a wonderful assist for Jamal Musiala.

When Nagelsmann took over as Bayern coach, it was apparent that Davies was going to be a focal point in his system. Expectations have been met so far based on Davies' statistical radar below.

The deep progressions are what stand out, but xGBuildup highlights Davies' importance in the team. Last season, Davies' xGBuildup clocked in at 0.45 per 90. That shot up to 0.66 this year.

Not only is Davies more involved in Bayern's attacking sequences, he's an auxiliary winger again, just like he was in his breakout 2019-20 campaign. The big difference now is he's drifting inside more often compared to the previous two seasons.

That's largely why Davies is on pace to record more assists this season in the Bundesliga and Champions League combined than he did two years ago (nine).

It should be a treat to watch the rest of the way.

BITS AND BOBS

• It's not just the men who are turning heads in Europe.

Canadian women's national team star Jessie Fleming has been on a tear of her own with Chelsea. She was named the WSL Player of the Month for November after scoring twice in a couple of marquee matches to keep the Blues in the title race. Fleming also helped her side win the Women's FA Cup to secure a historic domestic treble.

The 23-year-old has played in a more advanced role on the right flank where she's given the luxury to drift inside this season. Clearly, it's paying off for Chelsea's No. 17.

• Fleming's Chelsea actually lost to Reading thanks to fellow Canadian Deanne Rose's early strike on Sunday. The 22-year-old only joined the English side in late July, yet she's already bagged three goals and three assists in about 700 minutes across all competitions.

A tip of the cap to Rose for her effort on this goal.

• Having lost seven of their last nine games in all competitions, Besiktas returned to winning ways with Cyle Larin scoring in Sunday's victory over Kayserispor. It was his first goal since Nov. 6 and brings him up to four on the season in the Turkish Super Lig and Champions League combined.

Larin was especially dominant in the air, as he's been all season. His xG remain in line with last year, but he overachieved his xG in 2020-21, so a regression was expected. Regardless, he continues to produce quality chances.

• Larin's countryman Atiba Hutchinson was a starter in the win as well. The 38-year-old was in vintage form, completing 63 of his 67 passes, six recoveries and two interceptions.

• Liam Millar scored his fifth goal of the season for Basel as it settled for a 2-2 draw with Servette. The 22-year-old has made remarkable improvements on the left wing with one of Switzerland's biggest clubs, showing more fearlessness on the dribble and generally impacting matches on a more consistent basis. That should lead to even more national team opportunities in 2022.

• It hasn't been a great week for Ike Ugbo. He earned his first consistent run of starts with Paul Onuachu injured, but the Canadian international was hauled off at halftime in the team's Europa League defeat to Rapid Wien on Thursday, which eliminated the club from European competition. Ugbo didn't receive any service, so the substitution made sense.

That defeat was followed up with a 1-0 loss to Gent, with Ugbo coming off the bench for the final five minutes. Genk now finds itself in 11th place domestically.

• Having played consistently under new Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Scott Arfield is now in contention for a January recall to the national team. Arfield told Sky Sports that he's spoken to Canada coach John Herdman and is "always up for selection" but that it's up to van Bronckhorst and Herdman to work out the right plan for the midfielder.

As for Sunday's match itself, Arfield was solid yet again. He completed some lovely sequences in the right half space and executed a couple of trademark late runs that should've resulted in a brace. Watch for No. 37 in blue down below.

• Scott Kennedy returned to the matchday squad for Jahn Regensburg in its 2-0 loss to Werder Bremen after recovering from an adductor injury. The German calendar has one game remaining before the winter break – on Dec. 19 – followed by two games ahead of the January window for World Cup qualifying. That should give Kennedy some time to regain match fitness.

• Watch out for Damiano Pecile in Italy. The Vancouver Whitecaps loanee has been brilliant with Venezia's U-19 team this season. Pecile has switched between a No. 8 and No. 6 role but has shown very good composure, vision and defensive acumen in either position. You can watch some of his clips in the following clips (No. 8 in white).

• Another youngster to monitor is Georgi Atanasov at Bulgarian side Arda. Having just turned 17, Atanasov debuted with the first team last season but has earned some minutes off the bench in recent weeks. Predominantly a winger or No. 10, the teenager is eligible to represent Bulgaria and Canada. He's No. 29 in blue in the video below.

• Julian Dunn is off to HamKam in Norway's top flight after his contract with Toronto FC expired. The 21-year-old centre-back could be a regular starter, which would do wonders for his development.

• Another TFC youngster was in Europe as Jayden Nelson impressed during his trial with Belgian giants Anderlecht. Nelson, 19, logged 247 minutes in MLS with the Reds this past season.

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