Manchester City; Kyle Walker Facing Real Competition at Right-Back

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Kyle Walker of Manchester City prepares to take a throw-in during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on August 04, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Kyle Walker of Manchester City prepares to take a throw-in during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on August 04, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /

With Joao Cancelo having had a few weeks to settle into Manchester City’s team, Kyle Walker could be facing some stiff competition for the starting job after the international break.

It’s been a solid start to the season for Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker.

Though he may have been a shock exclusion from the England squad that was selected over the current international break, Walker put in some good performances in City’s opening games in the League.

Coming out of the international break, however, Walker could be facing serious competition for the job. With Joao Cancelo now having had a few weeks to acclimate to his new club, Walker will need to be prepared to take his game to another level. Cancelo represents a real threat to his job.

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When discussing Manchester City’s potentially complicated situation at center-back a few weeks ago, I touched on how Cancelo’s transfer could change the dynamic on the back-line. It’s worth revisiting that discussion again in some more detail now.

Joao Cancelo provides the club with something they’ve only had in fits and spurts over parts of the past two seasons. He gives the team a dynamic attacking full-back who can blast down the wings on overlapping runs and hit dangerous crosses into the box.

In many ways, Cancelo’s attacking skills mirror that of a world-class right-back at one of City’s rival clubs: Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool.

Liverpool have been heavily reliant on their full-backs over the better part of the past 12 months to provide the width in their team. Because they have two of the best attacking full-backs in world football in Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been able to put his free-scoring wingers in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in positions closer to the middle of the pitch in the final third. This means that Mane and Salah are in much more favorable spots to create chances and score than they would be if they had to provide the width in the team.

Pep Guardiola has tried to implement a similar philosophy in his side whenever left-back, Benjamin Mendy, has been healthy. Because Mendy is capable of bursting past defenders and whipping in hard, well-placed crosses from wide positions, this allows someone with excellent creative and technical skills on the wing, like Raheem Sterling, to play a bit closer to the center-forward and midfielders.

When another attacking player can get into these spots, it creates the potential for more overloads in the center of the pitch which, in turn, creates more goal-scoring chances for the team. This is especially useful for a team to be able to do whenever they’re playing against a side that is sitting really deep and playing very compact defensively, something that describes almost every side that Manchester City will face in a given season.

Kyle Walker possesses the speed to be able to get past defenders on a consistent basis. However, he lacks the crossing ability to set-up his teammates well when he gets into those spots. This limits his effectiveness in the final third.

Benjamin Mendy, as discussed, has provided the team with the attacking qualities they needed when he’s been healthy. However, he’s missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries.

Oleksander Zinchenko, who’s taken on the position in his absence, is technically skilled, but lacks the speed to get in behind defenders regularly. Thus, City have been without that dynamic attacking full-back that would give them a different look to throw at teams.

Cancelo gives them the ability to stretch the pitch in a way Walker doesn’t. Because of that, don’t be surprised if he gets to start in most of City’s games, especially against mid-table or lower teams.

Kyle Walker will have to improve on his crossing if he wants to start the bulk of Manchester City’s games this season at right-back. He is a bit better defensively than Cancelo, which may make him the favored option in big games against the best teams. However, he may very well find himself in a 50-50 split at the position (or worse)  if he doesn’t improve on his delivery in the final third. City want someone with better attacking qualities than what he currently provides.

If he doesn’t take a step forward in attack, he may find himself splitting time between right-back, and center-back where Aymeric Laporte’s several month absence almost certainly means he will be needed there. He could excel there too given his defensive and physical qualities. He did well when asked to play in the position as part of a back-three for England at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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The coming weeks will be the biggest test that Walker has faced for playing time since he signed for the club in 2017. We’ll see if he’s up to the task.