If the jury was out on Ferland Mendy as Real Madrid’s starting left-back, then increasingly it looks like we might get a verdict. The Frenchman has never been the most exciting going forward, but his solid defensive qualities have made him an asset for the club. However when his defending is called into question, it could be an issue for Mendy.
Recently rumours erupted that Mendy would be replaced by the irrepressible Alphonso Davies, although it was said that any deal would have to wait until the summer of 2024. Not to mention that it could cost many millions to make it happen.
More recently, Manchester City left-back Joao Cancelo has been linked with Los Blancos. Over the summer there was also talk that Real Madrid might look to bring him in next summer. With Cancelo playing less of an important role this season, it has led The Telegraph to suggest that a deal between the two has become more likely.
Cancelo is no doubt an upgrade on Mendy. Perhaps the Frenchman can compete and even call himself more gifted when it comes to the sole art of defending, yet overall, few would turn down the opportunity to bring Cancelo to their club instead.
The Portuguese is versatile, technically gifted and an intelligent player. While Mendy is almost perpetual in the sense that very little of his game changes depending on the opponent, Cancelo is a Swiss Army Knife designed to the pick the best tool to use.
His ability with the ball would no doubt help Real Madrid when they are struggling to break down defences, or even if they are attempting work their way out of a sticky press in their own half. Cancelo interprets the game.
Yet part of the appeal of Cancelo is that he almost acts as another midfielder dropping inside to get on the ball. His talent lies in inverting the role of the full-back, playing on his ‘wrong’ side, as a right-footer.
The reason that Real Madrid want to replace Mendy is not merely that they want to bring in a better attacker. As it is, Carlo Ancelotti cannot take full advantage of their left side. Vinicius Junior is one of the most dangerous left wingers in the world, but his primary trick is attacking his full-back from outside to in.
Mendy does not go beyond him because he does not have the technique, mindset or timing to make use of the space that Vinicius vacates. Where Marcelo or Roberto Carlos would have been streaming down the flank in a fearsome left side, Mendy is not.
Neither would Cancelo though. Ancelotti could easily ask Cancelo to overlap and combine with Vinicius in an almost sure-fire route to the by-line. It would be a misuse of Cancelo’s talent though, and an unnatural fit.
Cancelo works to perfection in Pep Guardiola’s side because he has the freedom to move inside, in what is a far more fluid system. Real Madrid would be better of pursuing a left-back that naturally dovetails with Vinicius more so than Cancelo.
Image via EPA-EFE/PETER POWELL