Why Joao Cancelo exit could be a concern for Man City stalwart linked with transfer abroad

Kyle Walker’s future is looking less certain at Manchester City.

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Joao Cancelo is expected to leave Manchester City before Tuesday’s transfer deadline, with a loan to Bayern Munich looking likely as part of a deal that includes an option to buy for £65.5m.

Even as recently as October the Portugal international was seen as one of club’s most reliable players, but his form has notably dipped in recent months, while it’s been reported in the Daily Mail that Cancelo’s departure follows a training-ground bust-up with Pep Guardiola. But it’s a change in system that is perhaps the most decisive factor in Cancelo’s rapid decline at the Etihad.

Guardiola has switched recently from a traditional back four with two full-backs and two centre-backs, to a hybrid model which sees City change shape depending on whether they have possession or not. In such a system, right-back Rico Lewis often pushes into midfield when City have the ball, while Nathan Ake, who starts at left-back, tends to operate on the left of a back three in possession.

Cancelo’s best work for City has tended to come with him marauding down the left flank, an option which doesn’t fit into Guardiola’s newfangled set-up. Yet it also poses a problem for Kyle Walker on the opposite flank.

Over the last few years, Walker has been a stalwart on the right of a back four and is one of the club’s longest-serving players. But there’s a concern now that, similarly to Cancelo, the England international doesn’t suit Guardiola’s preferred shape. Walker has tended to push inside more readily than Cancelo in recent seasons, but advancing into midfield, as is asked of Lewis, is something the former Tottenham Hotspur man has rarely offered.

Indeed, it seems likely that Guardiola’s days of using natural full-backs could be at an end, which would spell bad news for Walker’s long-term future at the Etihad. Regardless, the defender turns 33 in May and his gradual regression from the team was expected anyway.

It may have already begun, with Walker starting just four of City’s 10 games since the World Cup, two of which have seen him replaced at half-time. Injuries have impacted his campaign and having started six of the first seven league matches this term, the right-back has been selected from the off in only two of the last 11 Premier League games.

Injuries also affected Walker last season and he played just over half of City’s league matches in 2021/22. In addition, the experienced defender’s contract expires in 18 months’ time and there are few reports claiming Walker could sign an extended deal. Yet, on the day that Cancelo’s departure broke, so too did a story from Turkey linking Walker with a switch to Fenerbache, with the experienced City man ready to ‘embark on a new adventure’, according to ASpor.

But as one star full-back heads for the exit at City, there’s every indication that another may not be far behind.