Alphonso Davies: Is the Bayern Munich teenager one of the best left-backs in the world?
Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies has been tipped to become one of the world's best left-backs. bundesliga.com puts the Canadian teenager's credentials to the test...
It's no secret that Davies joined Bayern as a winger. The 21-year-old had operated out of defence on occasion, but it was in an attacking role where his reputation as Canada's brightest soccer prospect was forged.
At 15, he made history as the first millennial to play in Major League Soccer with Vancouver Whitecaps. A year later, he became his country's youngest senior international debutant and goalscorer. Talk of 'the next Arjen Robben' was rife, and gained further traction when Bayern beat a host of big-name European rivals to Davies' signature in July 2018.
Watch: Relive Alphonso Davies' first steps at Bayern
Davies officially made the switch shortly after turning 18 in January 2019, but chances to showcase his mind-bending ability in one-on-one situations were at a premium. Even with Robben sidelined and in his career swan-song, the Edmonton whizz still had the likes of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Franck Ribery ahead of him.
Between debuting in the Bundesliga on 21 January 2019 and the end of Bayern's Bundesliga-DFB Cup double-winning season, Davies made six substitute first-team appearances, as well as four starts for the reserves in Germany's fourth tier. His longest top-flight cameo was clocked at 31 minutes, in which he became Bayern's first goalscorer born in the 2000s and youngest in 20 years, courtesy of a late strike in a 6-1 drubbing of Mainz on 17 March 2019.
It was a watershed moment, but not because of the milestone goal. Davies had entered the fray in place of David Alaba - at left-back.
The conversion resumed in the early part of 2019/20, hastened by injuries to first-choice central defenders Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez.
Davies played the entire second half of Bayern's Matchday 6 win at Paderborn on the left-hand side of the back four, before making his first Bundesliga start in the absence of Alaba a month down the line. He continued in the role in Niko Kovac's final outing as head coach against Eintracht Frankfurt, and went on to start 31 out of the record champions' first 32 competitive games under Kovac's successor Hansi Flick, with Alaba shifting inside.
"I’ve always been confident Davies can fulfil the role of left-back," Flick said during the Bundesliga's 2020/21 winter break. "He’s our get-out-of-jail-free card with his pace and strength to recover his position, and he’s a great passer of the ball.
"It’s about performances, but we’re certainly well equipped at left-back with him and David [Alaba]."
That's putting it mildly. Alaba has long ranked among the world's foremost left-backs. The Austrian made 152 Bundesliga appearances on the left-hand side of the Bayern defence down the years, registering 16 goals and 22 assists from the position, and getting his hands on ten league titles before the age of 28.
Although Davies has significantly fewer tangibles to show for his first 58 league outings at left-back - four goals, nine assists and three Bundesliga winner's medals - the statistics point to a more rounded left-back. His performance in Bayern's 1-0 Klassiker win over Borussia Dortmund on 26 May 2020 is a case in point.
"Alphonso's a player with a lot of heart and a lot of power, extreme power," said Thomas Müller after the game. "Sometimes maybe he does not have the best position on the field, but he gets the opponent feeling 'I have time, I have time', but then: 'beep beep, beep beep!' The Bayern roadrunner comes ahead and steals the ball."
Watch: Thomas Müller on Bayern's Road Runner
Don't just take Müller's word for it. Davies takes the habitual honour of being the fastest player on the pitch and hit a club record of 22.6mph/36.37km/h in 2021/22, whilst making the most sprints across the division (515 in just the first half of the season), as well as attempting (30) and winning (16) the most tackles.
Being on the ball an average of 81.3 times – more than all but three of his teammates – shows that Davies is not too far off the mark in terms of his positioning either, despite being an area marked for self-improvement.
"Obviously being a young player I get caught out of position a lot and I'm happy to have the speed I have," said the Canadian. "That's a factor in my game that I use very well, but I think over the years going forward with this team I will definitely learn more about my position, better positioning so it doesn't look like I'm out of position just running back as fast as I can to catch up."
The truth is Davies could be knee-deep in quicksand, and still recover to pick a pocket or two.
Moving further back in time along the Bayern pantheon - not including goals, assists and bookings - Davies leads Bixente Lizarazu across the board, and trumps Philipp Lahm's 158-game total at left-back in all departments except for crosses to a goal.
As for his non-Bayern contemporaries, only RB Leipzig's Marcel Halstenberg along with Borussia Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro can compare.
Davies is again top dog in the majority of categories, with Halstenberg faring better for shots on goal, crosses to a man and aerial challenges won; Guerreiro for touches and distance covered.
The difference is all three started out - and have played the majority of their professional careers - as nominal full-backs. Davies has only been in the left-back business a matter of months on German soil.
Ordinarily, putting such a forward-thinking player in a stop-gap defensive role is the coaching equivalent to a 911 call. The fact Davies is now a contender for the full-time job reflects his Ivy League-standard soccer IQ.
"Playing as a winger early on now benefits him as a left-back," Bayern's former reserve-team coach and current Hoffenheim boss Sebastian Hoeneß told Goal, having handed the youngster eight league starts across Germany's fourth and third tiers prior to his explosive senior breakout.
"His physique is one of his great strengths. He is a model athlete: fast and also very robust. Accordingly, his body is his greatest weapon. He is also a left-footer and an accomplished technician, even at the highest speed.
"If his development continues like this, he certainly has the potential to become one of the best in the world in his position."
It's a bold claim, but the numbers suggest Davies has already reached that level.
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