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Alphonso Davies: The Canadian Wunderkind

Alphonso Davies. The boy who is living the dream. Born at a refugee camp, then moved to Canada, before being recruited by FC Bayern München, and finally won the UEFA Champions League. All before his 20th birthday. Oh, and another thing: his girlfriend Jordyn Huitema is a top-level footballer as well, currently playing for French giants Paris Saint-Germain Féminines. What a life, eh?

Davies’ early rise is even more interesting when we look into the details. He joined FC Hollywood in January 2019, yet cemented his place as Bayern’s first-choice full-back less than a year after that. It’s not just that, though. His name has even been brought up in debates on the world’s best left-back at the moment. Without further ado, this tactical analysis will inform you about his role in Die Roten’s tactics.

Player profile

Davies was originally a left-winger. He started his career at Major League Soccer side Vancouver Whitecaps by playing in that position. As a winger, Davies was an explosive player. He even managed to get 12 goals and make 14 assists during his 81 appearances for the Canadian club. Such a promising display made him catch FC Bayern’s attention before finally securing the move in 2019.

In Germany, however, Davies doesn’t play as a winger. Indeed he started the early months in the advanced role, but he moved to left-back permanently in September 2019. The change is actually a blessing for the teenager, as he can use his explosiveness as well as improve his defensive ability alongside the likes of Jérôme Boateng, David Alaba, and co. If we look at the stats, Davies finished the 2019/20 season with three goals and nine assists from 43 games. Surely not a bad thing for a 19-year-old, right?

Roles in the early third

This part of the scout report will provide an analysis of Davies’ role in Bayern’s build-up play. Just like most of the European teams at the moment, Bayern like to use short build-ups and play from the back. This process mainly starts by Manuel Neuer playing the ball short to the feet of the centre-backs. As a full-back, Davies is tasked to drift wider and move forward, in parallel with the defensive midfielder(s). The objective is to allow him and the other full-back to provide width in Bayern’s early plays.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Davies provides width in Bayern’s short build-ups.

However, there are also occasions where Neuer doesn’t play short to the centre-backs. Those being moments where the opponents’ forwards are (still) pressing high, even up to Bayern’s penalty box. This is where Davies can be useful. Due to the Canadian’s wide-and-advanced positioning, Neuer can use him as an outlet when such a thing happens. Davies — who stands near the touchline — will not be pressed as hard as the centre-backs due to his wide positioning; making him a good option to progress the ball.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
When all Bayern’s centre-backs are not unavailable, Davies can offer as an outlet for Neuer in the left-side wide area.

Wide distributor

Moving into the next thirds, Davies tends to stay wide at all times. This is mainly because Bayern’s wingers are tasked to tuck inside and often rotate with the centre-forwards. By playing wide, Davies can also offer himself as a switch receiver whenever needed by his team.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Bayern’s main offensive structure with wide full-backs and narrow attackers.
Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
By providing the width in the left flank, Davies can offer himself as a switch receiver.

Under Hans-Dieter Flick, Bayern rely more on their free-rotating forwards and one box-to-box midfielder in their attacks. This means that the full-backs — including Davies — don’t have many attacking responsibilities in the final third. Davies and his partner would usually stay back and provide stability should the opponents try to hurt Die Roten in transitions.

However, it doesn’t mean he has no offensive tasks whatsoever. As a full-back, Davies is instructed to distribute early balls to the ball-side winger. To be more specific, the winger will make a run in behind (between opponents’ defenders), and Davies will be tasked to find him with a through-ball from the middle third. The statistics show that Davies completed 237 progressive passes last season; third-highest among all Bayern’s full-time defenders.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Davies serves Ivan Perišić in behind with an early through-ball.

Sometimes Davies can move into the final third too. When he does that, he is mainly tasked to provide crosses for his attacking teammates inside the box. Furthermore, the Canadian can be found in one-versus-one situations as well. In such scenarios, he tends to utilise his pace by knocking the ball past his marker before sending a cross from the byline.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
In the final third, Davies’ primary task is providing crosses for the attackers.

Very, very quick (part one)

We all know that Davies is gifted with supreme physical features, most notably his exquisite pace. Such a feat makes him really useful in transitional sequences. But how does he use that?

Firstly, we’re going to analyse Davies’ tendencies in counter-attacking situations. When Bayern win the ball back in their part of the pitch, Davies will mainly try to quickly distribute it to his ball-side winger. By doing so, the number 19 will let the attackers create chaos while he stays back and provides defensive stability.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Davies intercepts Fernando Marçal’s pass to Léo Dubois, and quickly distributes to Perišić.

Another thing he can do is join the attack and use his trailblazing speed. This mainly happens when his ball-side winger has dropped and/or the ball is won by the midfielders. In the process, Davies will run down the flank before getting the ball in behind to continue the attack.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Perišić wins the ball in this sequence. Notice Davies’ positioning compared to Almamy Touré.
Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Seconds later, Davies has outrun Touré to receive Perišić’s pass.

Very, very quick (part two)

It’s not just that, though. Davies can also initiate counter-attacks by himself. This means that he can carry the ball and run from the first third to the opponents’ defensive area with pace. After that, he can either combine or continue to the final third before sending crosses into the box. In fact, Davies managed to get at least 7,489 yards in terms of progressive distance last season; only Alaba has a better rate.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Bayern win the ball back from Lucas Moura and quickly distributes to the driving Davies via Javi Martínez.

Defensively, Davies’ pace is crucial when tracking back opponents’ forwards when Bayern lose the ball. However, this particular ability somehow rises due to the Canadian’s defensive issue. We’ll get back to that in the latter part of this scout report.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Notice the huge distance between Son Heung-min and the Canadian. Remember, Son is a very rapid player himself.
Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Yet, Davies can chase the South Korean to win the ball back.

Defensive roles

Under Flick, Bayern deploy a very high defensive line combined with calculated off-side traps. This enables them to prevent their opponents from controlling the space in between the lines, as well as winning the ball easier in the more advanced areas. 

Usually, they only use the defenders to engage in the high line. But sometimes (one of the) midfielders will also join, especially when the rivals try to play long balls in behind.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Bayern’s high defensive line.

Bayern’s defensive compactness is not just in vertical terms, but horizontally as well. It means that they would try to congest the central spaces and let the opponents attack from the flank. This is where Davies’ defensive attributes can be seen more vividly.

When the ball is in the feet of the opponents’ wide player, Davies tends to step out from his backline to press him. The objective behind this is to limit the opponent’s time on the ball, as well as limiting the space further with the touchline’s help. If we look at the stats, Davies managed to win 42.25% of his presses last season; the best among Die Roten’s players.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
The Canadian likes to press the on-ball flank opponent, even before he reaches Bayern’ defensive third.

When Davies steps wide, it’s likely that a gap will appear in Bayern’s defensive block. On some occasions, this can lead to an issue, which we will examine later. But, the issue can be nullified most of the time because one of the defensive midfielders will drop to cover the gap.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Sometimes Davies can be helped by the dropping midfielder - in this sequence Leon Goretzka - to protect the gap he has left.

Potential issues

Despite all his quality, Davies still has a lot to improve in both ends. Offensively, Davies can improve his crossing skill. Crossing is increasingly important in today’s football because the common defensive tendencies allow the flanks to be more open instead of the central spaces. It’s not just that. Davies’ need to improve this particular ability because of his left-footedness, and to add more unpredictability in Bayern’s attacking repertoire.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Crossing is the main offensive problem Davies has to fix.

Defensive-wise, Davies’ main issue is his lack of positional awareness. It means that he tends to be uncoordinated with his defensive partners, particularly when engaging in a high line. Sometimes Davies can be too advanced, even when defending in the far-side. At other times, he tends to miscalculate the ball-side threat and allow the opponents’ winger too much space on the flank. Indeed he has the pace to compensate the issue, but Davies definitely needs to improve and position himself better defensively.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
The youngster somehow steps up instead of staying in the defensive line.
Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Sometimes Davies is positioned more advanced despite defending in the far-side; allowing his man to have an advantage. This sequence ends in Jeff Reine-Adélaïde getting the ball first.

Earlier, we have mentioned Davies’ tendency to step out when defending the flank, which also bears occasional problems. The issue will occur when there’s no one to cover the gap that was vacated by the youngster. Then, the opponents can easily exploit this via short combinations in behind, thus pulling out another Bayern defender to close the gap.

Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Davies - who has stepped out to close Dubois - is easily beaten with a simple one-two combination.
Alphonso Davies 2020/21 - Scout Report - Tactical Analysis Tactics
Sometimes Davies can stay back and let the winger press, instead of letting the opponents outsmart him in behind.

Conclusion

Davies is already an exceptional footballer despite his tender age. His great versatility and amazing pace are the main reasons behind that. He also has successfully transcended from one of the most promising young wingers to one of the current best full-backs in the world in just a single season. Can you recall anyone who has done that before?

However, Davies still has a lot to improve. That mainly being his defensive positioning and awareness. He surely can’t always rely on his supreme physical abilities to compensate for those issues, as it can put unnecessary risks for him and his team. If he improves in the upcoming years, the sky is the only limit for the Canadian wunderkind.