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Why Joao Cancelo is leaving Man City for Bayern Munich: Transfer fee, replacements and Pep Guardiola’s reasoning for transfer bombshell

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An expected quiet end to the transfer window for Premier League champions Manchester City exploded into life on Monday when it emerged Joao Cancelo was set to join Bayern Munich in a shock loan move.

As first reported by The Athletic, the Portugal international is set to join the Bundesliga giants on loan until the end of this season.

If the deal goes through, there will also be an option for Bayern to buy Cancelo for a reported €70million.

It would bring an abrupt end in Manchester for a player who was pivotal to Pep Guardiola’s side winning back-to-back league titles over the past couple of seasons.

Here’s everything you need to know about Cancelo’s potential move to the Allianz Arena.

MORE: Shackling Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and delighting Pep Guardiola: How Nathan Ake became Man City’s Mr Reliable

Why is Joao Cancelo leaving Manchester City?

As is typically the case in these situations, the matter primarily boils down to game time.

On the face of it, Cancelo has retained his place as a City regular this season — appearing in 17 and starting 16 of the club’s 20 Premier League matches. He was sent off during a 2-1 win over Fulham in November.

However, he has only started two league games since the World Cup, where poor form saw him lose his starting place at right-back for Portugal to Diogo Dalot. In one of those outings, he was substituted at halftime before City went on to win 1-0 at Chelsea. 

Since completing 90 minutes when Guardiola’s side suffered a late collapse to lose the Manchester derby 2-1 against United at Old Trafford, he has been an unused substitute for the home wins over Tottenham and Wolves in the league and Arsenal in the FA Cup.

In between the Chelsea and United games, Cancelo turned in a truly wretched performance as City were dumped out of the Carabao Cup by relegation-threatened Southampton.

The Sporting News understands Cancelo himself presented Bayern’s interest to City. Throughout his tenure, Guardiola has made it an unofficial policy that if a player wants to leave and can find a workable exit strategy, then City will not stand in their way.

Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly a situation that has escalated quickly.

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Has Pep Guardiola changed his Man City tactics? 

When Cancelo struggled against Chelsea, he was operating in an unfamiliar position on the right-hand side of midfield, outside a central defensive three. He also took on this role against Liverpool at Anfield in October, where his late error led directly to Mohamed Salah’s winning goal.

Cancelo typically played his best football marauding in-field and into attacking positions from left-back, form that saw him named in the PFA Team of the Season in each of the past two campaigns.

But one of Guardiola’s hallmarks is to persistently tweak the demands placed upon his fullbacks to solve tactical conundrums. While he is rightly viewed as one of the most versatile members of the City squad, Cancelo’s particular skillset and how Guardiola has set up the team over recent months — combined with the player’s dwindling form — has done much to pave the way to Bavaria.

Erling Haaland’s arrival and prolific introduction into English football has been a game-changer for Guardiola in several ways. After operating with a false-nine over the previous two seasons, which allowed City to retain midfield superiority as their central attacker dropped deep, they now have Haaland stationed high up the field to do damage.

The workaround Guardiola has settled upon is to generally set up with a 3-2-2-3 shape in possession, with one of the full-backs tucking in alongside defensive midfielder Rodri as the remaining three defenders fan out across the backline.

That particular inverted role is a little restrictive for the attack-minded Cancelo — Oleksandr Zinchenko was more adept in this regard prior to his summer move to Arsenal — and he is not defensively sound enough to play in the back three in the manner of Kyle Walker and Nathan Ake.

The emergence of the prodigiously gifted Rico Lewis as an inverted right-back option means Guardiola has the teenager and John Stones who can slot in alongside Rodri more smoothly than Cancelo and Walker and Ake who do the defensive part of the full-back job more effectively.

MORE: What’s going on with Manchester City? Erling Haaland conundrum and Pep Guardiola’s biggest fear

Has Pep Guardiola fallen out with Joao Cancelo?

Speculation will be rife in this regard given the unusually quick progress of a major transfer deal.

Cancelo’s move to Bayern would also follow a period when Guardiola has openly questioned the hunger and desire of his players to match Premier League leaders Arsenal and win a third successive title.

At the same time, Cancelo has been one of a number of senior players including Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Walker who have found themselves on the bench more often than not.

Guardiola’s mentor and former assistant Juanma Lillo was known to have established an excellent rapport with Cancelo during his time in Manchester between 2020 and 2022. Lillo left to coach Qatari side Al Sadd at the end of last season. It feels notable that Cancelo’s sharp downturn came after Lillo’s exit. 

Cancelo signed a two-year contract extension until 2027 last February at City, although he had previously been something of a flighty operator. His 2020 move to Manchester came a year after he joined Juventus from Valencia, having spent the previous season on loan at Inter.

Will Man City replace Joao Cancelo?

To the chagrin of many City fans, it seems unlikely that there will be any further January incomings after Argentina Under-20 midfielder Maximo Perrone.

Cancelo’s transfer does show how quickly things can change and, although they generally take a methodical approach in the market, City showed they could be light on their feet towards the end of the summer window when they secured Manuel Akanji on a cut-price deal from Borussia Dortmund.

On the face of it, Cancelo following Zinchenko through the exit door after a close-season when City failed to sign Marc Cucurella, Guardiola is leaving himself foolishly light in terms of specialist full-backs.

Lewis has been a revelation, with fellow youngster Sergio Gomez somewhat less convincing defensively in his sporadic outings at left-back. If Cancelo goes, Walker will be the club’s only specialist senior full-back.

However, Lewis’ emergence, Ake’s performances on the left-hand side of the defence and the presence of five centre-backs to carry out Guardiola’s tactical plan of the moment means there is a feeling of there being adequate cover.

Walker, Akanji, Stones, Ake and Laporte have all lined up as right or left-backs on paper this season but then spent the majority of games on one side or another of a back three.

Can Joao Cancelo play against Man City in the Champions League?

Yes, although City and Bayern must first negotiate respective ties with RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain and then draw each other at some point.

Players who featured for another club in the same season used to be cup-tied in UEFA competitions but, since 2018/19, that has no longer been the case. 

In 2020, Philippe Coutinho famously left Barcelona red-faced when he scored against them while on loan at Bayern in an 8-2 mauling.

It is unlikely any City and Cancelo reunion would be quite so dramatic, but this hasty deal could yet have a sting in the tail for Guardiola unless his club are able to insert a clause into Cancelo’s terms preventing him from taking part in any City vs Bayern match this season.

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