Canada's Alphonso Davies scores and assists in Bayern Munich's victory

Canadians Abroad Roundup: Davies finding form at ideal time for Canada

It doesn’t take an expert to know that the Canadian men’s national team’s odds of upsetting the apple cart in Group F at the World Cup hinge on Alphonso Davies’ performances.

It’s true that Canada coped without Davies in the final six Concacaf qualifiers, claiming 12 of 18 available points to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. But this is the grandest stage of them all. Top players need to produce those decisive moments of quality to lift their countries to glory.

With that in mind, surely coach John Herdman is pleased by Davies’ recent developments at Bayern Munich.

Nearly two months ago, Davies’ early season trends were analyzed in depth. He was afforded more opportunities to drift inside, and the freedom to roam in general. That’s still the case, but the 21-year-old is growing more confident in this hybrid full-back role with every passing game.

The 5-0 win over Freiburg on Oct. 16 began with furor, as Davies (No. 19) received a pass in the half space and fizzled a shot narrowly over the bar.

But Davies didn’t just stick to the central channels, either.

The unpredictability of Davies’ positioning meant that he could interchange roles with Sadio Mane as well and Freiburg couldn’t cope with that wrinkle.

A few days later in a German Cup win over Augsburg, Davies played like a man possessed. The combos with Mane, the unstoppable pace, vision and tenacity to be as involved as the forwards were breathtaking to watch.

That persistence was eventually rewarded with a tremendously executed assist – featuring a cool nutmeg – and a goal, Davies’ first of the season.

We have to credit Davies’ defensive growth as well. His underlying numbers, via, have improved – specifically against opposing dribblers. He has a 72 per cent success rate in the Bundesliga this season compared to 40.5, 66.7 and 56.6 in his previous three campaigns.

The eye test backs up those numbers, too. Davies is more patient in one-on-one duels and his anticipation is much stronger, enabling him to intervene at the ideal time.

This level of domination bodes well for Canada come World Cup time. The fact Davies is involved centrally for Bayern and regularly produces shots, key passes and influences games in general means that the transition from club to country won’t be so drastic.

That being said, with great power comes great responsibility. Davies will likely be among Canada’s leaders in touches, and ball-progressing forwards will commit turnovers. It comes with the territory.

Davies can be guilty of trying to shoulder too much of the burden for Canada, which can lead to him retaining the ball longer than necessary. Take the next couple of clips, for example.

If Canada is diligent with its off-the-ball responsibilities and track back like we saw during World Cup qualifying, then it won’t be an issue. If they don’t, Belgium, Croatia and Morocco will pounce like Uruguay did last month.


• The scoring streak for Jonathan David ends at four games but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. David had four shots in Lille’s wild 4-3 win over Monaco, one of which ended up counting as an assist for Rémy Cabella’s goal.

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The 22-year-old was incredibly unfortunate to not score. He logged a total of 0.52 expected goals (xG) so chalk it down to uncharacteristically wasteful finishing.

However, the fact David still popped up in those positions is promising. He faded out of games far too often in the second half of last season and has yet to do so in 2022-23. Consistency will be key if Canada’s in-form No. 9 wants to earn a marquee transfer by the summer.

• Sticking to Ligue 1, Ike Ugbo was a late substitute for Troyes in a 2-2 draw with Lorient on Sunday. He has 10 appearances but just 340 minutes to show for them and hasn’t started since Sept. 9. That doesn’t bode well ahead of the World Cup.

• When Tajon Buchanan made his Champions League debut against Atlético Madrid, he regularly dribbled into central areas. This was the case in Club Brugge’s draw with Union Saint-Gilloise on Saturday, too.

The tactical tweak hasn’t yielded any noteworthy results in terms of shots or assists this time – the Atlético game aside – but there’ve been some benefits.

Brugge’s fluidity up front and quick passing combinations opens up potential shooting or passing lanes. It could be via Buchanan (No. 17) moving centrally, then dropping deep to collect a pass to allow a teammate to run into that vacated space.

One of Brugge’s strikers occasionally drops deep so Buchanan can sprint into an open lane to the box, too.

Sometimes he tries to combine with a quick give-and-go. It didn’t come off in the clip below but you can understand the thought behind it.

Or there’s the classic dribble into the centre, lay off the ball, dart into the box and try to receive a cross. While he didn’t latch onto a cross, the execution made sense.

This should pique the interest of Canada coach John Herdman. A fluid frontline of Davies, David and Buchanan – interchanging and combining together via quick passes with the overlapping Alistair Johnston or Sam Adekugbe – could cause fits for the Belgians, Croatians and Moroccans.

• Meanwhile, Cyle Larin is not even receiving call-ups to Brugge’s squads anymore. He hasn’t even been on the bench in the past three games, indicating that he’s now fifth (at best) in the pecking order of strikers. All the more reason to test the aforementioned attacking trio in pre-World Cup friendlies vs. Bahrain and Japan.

• Stephen Eustaquio and Porto return to Champions League action this Wednesday against Buchanan’s Club Brugge. However, Eustaquio is in some hot water after he was sent off in Friday’s top-of-the-table clash with Benfica.

Eustaquio received two bookings within three minutes for very similar challenges, leaving the hosts with 10 men for more than an hour. Benfica eventually edged Porto 1-0 and increased its lead atop the Primeira Liga.

The carelessness to commit a similar challenge as the one that led to an initial booking can’t be excused. Whether it leads to Eustaquio getting dropped for the Champions League is unknown for now.

• Steven Vitoria enjoyed a routine afternoon at the back for Chaves as they cruised past Gil Vicente 3-1. However, concerns surrounding Vitoria’s (No. 19) composure under pressure when building from the back haven’t been alleviated.

But even when Vitoria had time to pick out a pass, he committed unnecessary turnovers in tricky spots.

All the more reason why Canada needs a fully fit Atiba Hutchinson as soon as possible.

• In the English Championship, Junior Hoilett keeps on plugging away for Reading. He started in last Tuesday’s loss to Swansea and again over the weekend vs. Bristol City. Neither match was particularly eventful for Hoilett (No. 23), although he had a few nice sequences to progress the ball through tight spaces.

• There was plenty to like in Theo Corbeanu’s recent performance. He registered his first assist of the season for Blackpool, albeit in a 3-1 defeat to Hull City, but it’s evident he’s releasing the ball faster compared to last season.

Corbeanu’s (No. 25) crossing, the assist included, was lethal throughout and has become a weapon of choice.

The 0.3 expected assists (xA) from Corbeanu vs. Hull City was his highest single-game output of the season. If he starts creating chances from open play on the regular, his statistical radar will really catch the eye.

• Atiba Hutchinson wasn’t in Besiktas’ matchday squad on Monday against Hatayspor. That leaves Hutchinson with just four games until the World Cup to gain match fitness.

• Sam Adekugbe started for Hatayspor for the first time since the Turkish Super Lig paused for the September window and he didn’t disappoint. Adekugbe won all of his defensive duels in what was a stellar defensive performance from the hosts. Hopefully that was enough to convince the new coach.

• Just when it appeared that Liam Millar’s minutes were regressing, he received back-to-back starts in the past few days, going the full 90 on both occasions.

The Zurich game had a little bit of everything, from drawn fouls to a couple of quality passes.

Sunday’s game was miraculous. Millar had a season-high four shots with 0.68 xG and somehow didn’t convert any of his chances.

Regardless, this is fantastic news for Millar. He’s involved in all aspects of Basel’s attack and he’s logging full 90s again, just in time for the World Cup.

• Milan Borjan and Red Star edged Radnicki Nis 2-1 over the weekend, although there was a close call in the opening stages of the game.

Borjan’s weaknesses on the ball are well-documented by now, but he may not be as lucky if he lands in a similar situation at the World Cup.

• Herdman finally caught a break with his midfield situation in the form of David Wotherspoon, who returned to the pitch for the first time in 11 months following his recovery from a torn ACL.

Wotherspoon played around 15 minutes in St. Johnstone’s loss to Livingston on Oct. 15 and then received another half-hour in Friday’s win over Hibernian.

Understandably, it took Wotherspoon until the late stages of the Hibernian game to regain his touch, anticipation and chemistry with teammates to the level he was at last year.

It’s still not perfect but he has another four games to build his fitness and make his case to Herdman.

• Theo Bair started the Livingston game and went 67 minutes without much involvement. He was an unused substitute vs. Hibernian.

• Scott Kennedy’s performance against Sandhausen on Saturday was solid overall. He won seven of his eight defensive duels and dominated in the air but Kennedy’s panic while under pressure on the ball reared its ugly head.

It hasn’t affected Kennedy with Canada yet, but that’ll be a challenge during the World Cup if he sees the pitch given the intensity and increased quality of play.

• Unlike Kennedy, Derek Cornelius was cool as ice when he faced Olympiakos’ high press.

That composure, especially combined with his physicality in duels, will come in handy on the left side of Canada’s back three next month.

• Only one Canadian is left standing in the MLS playoffs after Maxime Crepeau and LAFC knocked out Raheem Edwards’ L.A. Galaxy in El Tráfico to reach the Western Conference final in a thrilling 3-2 win.

Edwards – who’s on the fringes of the World Cup roster – was especially busy defensively. He won nine of 13 defensive duels and covered ground exceptionally well. Considering how much praise he receives for his ability to progress the ball on the left flank, Edwards deserves to be highlighted for his improved work rate.

The only duels Edwards lost were fouls. Now, conceding a tactical foul like the one below is fine. That’s the most efficient method to shutting down counter-attacks.

These two fouls, however, are unnecessary.

Edwards is practically a second winger in the Galaxy’s system so he’s bound to concede more fouls than a traditional left-back, hence the 2.21 fouls per 90 minutes this season. But there’s a time and place to commit them.

• Charles-Andreas Brym’s brace on Oct. 14 must’ve boosted his confidence because he was brilliant in the two games that followed.

It can’t be a coincidence that it’s coincided with Brym occupying a free-roaming role since last week’s breakout performance. He’s logging more touches in the box and attempted eight shots in three matches. The 24-year-old forward had nine shots in his previous six appearances combined.

The majority have been high-quality shots, or tested the goalkeeper at the very least.

Hopefully Brym can build on this as he readjusts to life in the Eerste Divisie with Eindhoven.

• Simon Colyn has scored in back-to-back games for Jong PSV as he slowly returns to form from last season.

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