Danilo’s move to Juventus was hardly given much attention. The Old Lady’s signing of the Brazilian came in a cash plus swap deal for Joao Cancelo, whose attacking contributions were crucial under Massimiliano Allegri.
That was one reason why Danilo never came under the spotlight. Everyone was accustomed to seeing Cancelo bomb down the flank, score and create. This made people feel Danilo is not a better full-back than Cancelo.
But Maurizio Sarri had certain criticisms about Cancelo. These made him feel that the Portuguese won’t be beneficial to his system due to his ability to play hyper-attacking football. They had questions about his attitude. They feared his tendency to quarrel with many members of the staff would create a negative atmosphere at the club.
It is the first criticism that is key. Cancelo made the highest number of dribbles per game for Juve last season- 2.4 (via Whoscored).
He also played the fifth-highest key passes per game- 1.4. His attacking abilities saw Allegri often use him as a right midfielder towards the end of the season. Doing that took away the defensive burden on his shoulders. Issues like these show why he was on the bench for games like the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Ajax.
Cancelo’s performance against Torino shows where he is found on a football pitch. The approach is attack-minded and shows little signs of a defensive mentality in a player. For a manager who places emphasis on defensive compactness, Cancelo often became a problem for Allegri.
Sarri, on the other hand, does play attacking football. But his full-backs at Chelsea or Napoli have never been ultra-attacking. He faced problems when Marcos Alonso played at left-back last season, attracting a huge amount of criticism.
Cesar Azpilicueta though, was one of the first names on the teamsheet for the Blues under Sarri. The Spaniard made more tackles per game than anyone else in that side- 2.8 (via Whoscored). His crosses from deep became a key part of the Chelsea armoury- as they were under Antonio Conte.
Azpilicueta made 0.6 crosses per game- the fourth-highest for the side last season. Being a more defensive-minded full-back, he has also played as the third centre-back when Conte was in-charge.
During Sarri’s time at Napoli, he had Elseid Hysaj playing at right-back regularly. The Albanian finds himself close to a partenopei exit now as Sarri brought the best of him.
Hysaj can be an attacking full-back but he’s diligent worker when tracking back. None of his stats would stand out because he was a complete performer. He made 2.3 tackles per game, making just as many interceptions per game in the 2016-17 season (via Whoscored)
He made only 1.1 dribbles per game and while that does speak of his attacking ability, his defence never let him down.
Going back to Danilo, the Brazilian has already won the Premier League and Champions League twice. He has won the La Liga once, winning the Portuguese Primera Liga thrice with Porto.
He made only 11 Premier League appearances for City because he played second-fiddle to Kyle Walker. His defensive transitions were key and his no-nonsense nature was clear.
The Brazil international made 1.8 tackles per game and made 1.4 interceptions per game. He also made 1.8 clearances per game. That is a key part of his armory. At Real Madrid in the 2016-17 season, the Brazilian made as many as 2.3 clearances per game. He also made three tackles per game (Via Whoscored).
It isn’t like Sarri wants defensive full-backs. Hysaj scored thrice in the 2016-17 season. Azpilicueta’s long-balls were a constant threat.
Danilo’s start to the season has been very good already. Out injured currently, he did score against Napoli. In his absence, Juve already look defensively troubled. Juan Cuadrado isn’t a natural full-back and his defensive lapses nearly costed the bianconeri in games against Brescia, SPAL and Verona.
Danilo, at City, learnt the ability to press and win the ball back quickly. That is what Pep Guardiola wants in his players. What he learnt at City will be crucial under Sarri too, considering the similarities in systems.
Juve’s new full-back may not be as flashy or flamboyant as the one they swapped. But he will still be very important for a side that will face defensive problems in the absence of Giorgio Chiellini.
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