Canadians Abroad: Bayern’s Alphonso Davies showing promise at left-back

Leipzig's Dani Olmo, left, and Bayern's Alphonso Davies challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Every two weeks, Sportsnet will highlight the top-performing Canadian player abroad and provide an in-depth breakdown of his most recent performance.

The Bundesliga is our focus in the first edition of Canadians Abroad, as Alphonso Davies started for Bayern Munich in its 0-0 draw with RB Leipzig on Sunday.

Davies completed the full 90 minutes and is showing remarkable improvement against quality opposition. In previous matches against Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt, both of whom utilize an energetic high-press, the Canadian teenager struggled due to a lack of incisive decision-making whilst under pressure.

Repetition was always going to be key with Davies. He’s only 19 years old and left-back is not his preferred role, after all. That being said, he displayed some of his trademark qualities in Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash.

Less than four minutes into the match, Davies (No. 19) executed an incredible recovering run to stop a Leipzig counter-attack. Then he was involved in a couple of wonderful attacking sequences.

Davies was capitalizing on Tyler Adams having to occupy the right half-space and Leipzig’s right flank throughout the first half. Eventually, the Red Bulls provided cover for Adams, which led to Davies becoming less involved in the final third during the second half.

It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t more active because Davies was brilliant going forward. He completed 18 of his 21 passes in the final third and attempted a game-high 10 dribbles.

Davies’ statistical dashboard vs. RB Leipzig.

Dribbling has been one of Davies’ best traits and he’s among the best in the Bundesliga in this regard. He’s ranked eighth in dribbles, per 90 minutes, among all players with at least 1,000 minutes in the Bundesliga this season.

However, there are still some defensive weaknesses in Davies’ game. It was apparent that Leipzig were trying to exploit Bayern’s flanks on the counter whenever the Bayern full-backs were further up the pitch, as seen below.

Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku was the main outlet for these passes. Bayern usually snuffed out those sequences and Davies was tracking back quickly, but there were moments when Davies was responsible for those counters.

For instance, he had a couple of sloppy touches on the ball when pressed. On one occasion in the 26th minute, he won a foul after committing the error, but the referee could’ve easily let the play continue.

Those defensive lapses tended to occur off the ball for Davies. Right at the start of the second half, he loses a 50-50 challenge with Timo Werner and it leads to a dangerous chance for Leipzig. If not for Marcel Sabitzer shooting over the bar, it could’ve given the visitors the lead.

A similar incident happened about 10 minutes later, although Davies and Bayern quickly retreated into their defensive shape to contain Leipzig in this instance.

At the start of the clip below, Ademola Lookman cushions the ball towards Dayot Upamecano with Davies closing down Lookman. Instead of following Lookman, Davies tries to anticipate Upamecano’s pass, even though Lucas Hernandez was rushing towards the Leipzig defender.

The wiser choice would’ve been for Davies to follow Lookman since he was in an onside position. Plus, the Canadian can match almost any player stride-for-stride. Joshua Kimmich was able to intervene in the end, but this was another big chance to concede.

On the other hand, Davies did have some crucial defensive actions, like this marking job against Werner.

Overall, Davies has shown great improvement as a left-back and these issues can be fixed. It’s not inconceivable to see him carving out a career as a defender, either. When it comes to his position with the national team, though, he has to be deployed up front. Case in point: the 2-0 win over the U.S. in October.

But the biggest reasons for keeping Davies in an attacking role are tactical. At Bayern, he’s playing in a system that he’s comfortable with and he gets ample defensive cover from teammates.

Below you’ll see Davies isn’t in position to defend, but centre-back David Alaba (No. 27) and midfielders Joshua Kimmich (No. 32) and Thiago (No. 6) are covering for him.

Thiago did the same for Davies when he battled Lookman. By doing this, the right half-space is covered, Davies has the man in possession marked and Lookman has no choice but to pass it back.

This was far from the case in November’s loss to the United States. Midfielders weren’t tracking back when possession was lost, nor were there many passing combinations with Davies, which meant he was prone to turnovers.

Until Canada coach John Herdman makes those tweaks, Davies shouldn’t play left-back for the national team.

BITS AND BOBS

• Make that 17 goals in all competitions for Jonathan David with Gent this season. The 20-year-old converted a penalty to help the Buffalos draw 1-1 with Anderlecht on Friday, and he showcased several attributes in this match. He was leading the team’s high press and was the main outlet on counter-attacks as well. While he’s outperforming his expected goals, David is attempting high-quality shots. If that continues, his scoring rate can be sustainable.

• Scott Arfield bagged a brace in Rangers’ 4-1 win against Hamilton in Scottish Cup action on Saturday. The 31-year-old’s rise in form has coincided with Arfield operating in a deeper role in Rangers’ midfield trio. This allows him to be more involved in the buildup and to make late, undetected runs into the opposition’s penalty area.

• Keep an eye on Canadian-born centre-back Martin Amuz at Danubio in Uruguay’s Primera Division. The 22-year-old started eight games in the 2019 Clausura and grew in confidence. The new season in Uruguay begins on Feb. 15, so if Amuz keeps his place, he could be on the Canadian national team’s radar.

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