Nope. I'm not buying it. Every year the rumours stretch credibility that little bit further but this is where the line in the sand is drawn. Manchester City loaning away the best left back in world football over the last two years with no obvious plan to replace him. Absolutely not. No way Jose. Not on your nelly.
Well, that was unexpected. In a move that has hit the transfer window like a bolt from the sky blue, Joao Cancelo is in talks to leave Manchester City, Bayern Munich his destination in a loan move that could include an option for the Bundesliga champions to buy.
Like any deal, there is a case to be made for why now is the time to part ways with Cancelo. The Portugal international has started just three of City's 10 games since the World Cup and in one of those he found himself hauled off at halftime. His replacement, Nathan Ake, has looked more than adequate as a fullback who is really as much of a left sided center back in a three man defense, delivering an exceptional in shackling Bukayo Saka and scoring as Arsenal were dumped out of the FA Cup. On the opposite flank, Rico Lewis, 18, has been doing Cancelo-y things, stepping into midfield from his fullback role and functioning alongside Rodri in buildup with aplomb.
Since Christmas you can see in the positioning chart below that City's lineup functions as a back three with Ake on the left with Lewis stepping into midfield
When Cancelo did play early in the season, he was not the force he had been in years gone by, creating fewer chances, registering less expected assists and winning the ball back more infrequently.
Then there are the questions about Cancelo's relationship with his boss. It was notable that in a recent victory over Chelsea, Guardiola labelled the Portuguese defender as one of the starters that he had picked to give supporters what they wanted. The implication was clearly that he was less than impressed with the 28-year-old. It is not the only occasion of late when such a conclusion could be reached when parsing through press conference references to "Mr. Cancelo."
But then again, this is Joao Cancelo. Since arriving from Juventus in 2019 he has established himself as one of the world's premier left backs on the opposite flank to that where he had spent most of his career beforehand. He was at the vanguard of those reinterpreting the role of fullback, functioning as one of City's primary deep playmakers and a constant threat to shoot from range (last season's mark of 2.26 shots per 90 minutes was higher than Jack Grealish or Bernardo Silva). If he has declined it is from the most dizzying of peaks and may be more reflective of a team that has become less of an everyone eats offense, more craftsmen of a smorgasbord of shots to be engorged by Erling Haaland.
It has been suggested that Cancelo told City he wanted to go after slipping out of the first team picture, in such circumstances one might be inclined to applaud the club that calls their player's bluff. There would be a persuasive logic to not tolerating any perceived infractions if City had a top alternate, for instance Oleksandr Zinchenko, waiting in the wings. They do not. Early indications are they do not intend to sign one this month. Their options at left back, then, are to either shuffle across Lewis or Kyle Walker from the opposite flank, entrust Sergio Gomez with minutes he has not shown himself to be ready for or ride and die with Ake, a player who Guardiola has praised without prompt on more than one occasion over the past month.
That might just work. In recent weeks Guardiola has effectively flipped flanks on his previous blueprint, Lewis becoming the extra midfielder and Ake the third defender. But no one can convincingly argue that a teenager and a center back can offer the same guaranteed base level performance as Walker and Cancelo. City are now entering the business end of the season, chasing Champions League glory abroad and an Arsenal side at home who could deal a brutal blow to their title challenge in 16 days. They are doing so with a backline that might generously be termed experimental. No matter how severe the problems with Cancelo, did they have to be addressed now?