Friday, June 14, 2024

Champions League: Bayern Munich reaping the benefits of Alphonso Davies’ world-class versatility as left back

Electric on the field and a bubbling personality off of it, Alphonso Davies is a remarkable player who has been thriving for a Bayern Munich squad looking to win the Champions League for the second time in three seasons. 

Davies and his family made it to Canada when he was five after resettling from a Ghanaian refugee camp. A resettlement program made settling in Canada possible where he picked up on soccer and eventually joined the team at the St. Nicholas Soccer Academy, which led to him joining the Edmonton Strikers. By 14, Davies entered the residency program for the Vancouver Whitecaps and moved through their youth ranks before making his first-team debut at only 15 in 2016 becoming the second-youngest player in Major League Soccer history behind only Freddy Adu.

Davies rose through MLS and collected eight goals and 12 assists in his final season for the Whitecaps in 2018 where he played as a winger. From there, he moved to Bayern Munich where he changed positions and became a left wing-back after traditionally lining up as an attacker/winger. That shift is something that he talked about with CBS Sports analysts Maurice Edu, Charlie Davies, and Oguchi Onyewu on Paramount+ following Wednesday’s Champions League games. 

“When I first came to Bayern,” said Davies, when asked what his position was, “they signed me as a winger. You know, that’s what they told me I could play. They knew that I played left back once in a while with Whitecaps, but that’s where they wanted me to play as an attacker. But obviously, with the injuries and stuff like that, I caught myself playing left back, and surprisingly I did well, and the coach was happier with my performance at the time. And I guess, you know, I just thought it was a one-game thing, I didn’t think I was gonna be stuck there permanently.”

Fast forward to 2021, Davies has made 86 out of 104 appearances for Bayern as a left back and has become one of the best of the world in the position, all while sliding into and attacking role for John Herdman and the Canadian national team.

“It was tough at first because I didn’t understand the position, you know, especially at this high level, I didn’t understand what was going on,” said Davies about the transition. “I was just trying my best. I got a lot of criticism saying, ‘his position is bad.’ I was still learning the position, you know. So, now, I’m still learning, I started playing left back, I think, three years ago — almost four now.”

It’s safe to say that Davies has figured out the position as not only is he one of three full-time defenders to register 10 or more assists in the Bundesliga since the 2019-20 season, but he has excelled in every defensive metric as well. Davies ranks fourth in ball recoveries among defenders during that time and has won 58.6 percent of his ground duels, which is slightly above the 56.2 percent league average. Davies has also scored four goals from 14 shots on goal which is a pretty good conversion rate. 

His speed helps him recover from any mistakes made, but don’t underestimate his constant will to improve at the position. “I’m gonna do whatever it takes for my defender or my attacker not to get past me, and I keep that mindset every time I step on the pitch,” Davies said. “I get really frustrated or annoyed when someone runs past me cause I know I can do better.”

Davies went on to speak about a game against Hertha Berlin where after an attacker pulled off an elastico and megged him, he ran the entire length of the pitch to win the ball back and make sure that his defensive duties were covered. In Bayern’s impressive victory against Barcelona on Wednesday, Davies showed this first hand having the most ball recoveries on the team while also winning almost 80 percent of his ground duels. Then even with so much defensive responsibility in the match, Davies was still able to assist Jamal Musiala’s goal in the 62nd minute to put the match out of reach for the Catalan giants who needed a miraculous effort to reach the knockout stage.

The goal is a great display of what having someone with Davies’ attacking abilities at wing-back can do. After bringing in an outlet pass and catching Ronal Araujo out of position, it was all over for Barcelona. Even on a good day, not many people can stop Davies on the dribble when he gets behind them, but Ronald Araújo had no chance before getting beaten to the endline. Then, barely keeping the ball in, Davies unleashed an accurate pass to play his forward in — a true chef’s kiss moment.

This is part of what playing under Julian Nagelsmann is helping Davies improve his game technically. After winning the Bundesliga, German Cup, German Super Cup and Champions League by the time he turned 21, it’s scary that Davies can still improve. Even in Concacaf, Davies and the Canadian national team are on track to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986. You can watch all of Davies’ Concacaf qualifiers on Paramount+, including the January window featuring a must-see showdown against the United States on Jan. 30 in Hamilton. 

Canada are in the midst of a breakout generation of talent and it’s being fueled by Davies’ rise as a global superstar. From idolizing Lionel Messi growing up to becoming a Messi-like prodigy in the eyes of Canadian soccer fans (and dismantling Messi’s former club on Wednesday), it is amazing how things have changed for Davies in such a short period of time.

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