Is Alphonso Davies One Of The Best Left-Backs In The World?

Alphonso Davies

It’s no secret that Davies joined Bayern as a winger. The 19-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 wodge of big-name European rivals to Davies’ signature in July 2018.

How It Started

Davies officially made the switch shortly after turning 18 in January 2019, but chances to showcase his mind-bending ability in one-v-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.

Alphonso Davies

Time For a Change

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 has since started all 16 of the record champions’ competitive games under interim 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 customary 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].”

Alphonso Davies

That’s putting it mildly. Alaba has long ranked among the world’s foremost left-backs. The Austrian has made almost 150 Bundesliga appearances on the left-hand side of the Bayern defence down the years, registering 15 goals and 36 assists, and getting his hands on eight league titles before the age of 28.

Although Davies has significantly fewer tangibles to show for his first 23 Bundesliga outings – two goals, five assists and one Bundesliga winner’s medal – the statistics point to a more rounded left-back.

The margins are fine and the Canadian’s cross section smaller, but he is already ahead of Alaba in terms of per-game averages for challenges won (58 per cent vs. 55.7 per cent); passes to a shot (0.83 vs. 0.75) ; touches (94.7 vs. 84.8); distance covered (6.84 miles vs. 6.60 miles); successful sprint attempts (36.3 vs. 28.8) and top speed (22 mph vs. 21.4mph).

Pass completion and crosses to a shot are the only two areas where the Bayern No.19 ranks as second best to his teammate and mentor.

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 duo Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi 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; and Hakimi for season-wide successful dribbles (52 vs. 54).

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.

Alphonso Davies

Looking Forward

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 reserve-team coach 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.