On The Fringes: Why Is Pep Reluctant To Use Danilo?

Usually when a side spends £26.5m on a player, you’d expect them to feature regularly from the offset. In this instance, that hasn’t been the case for Danilo in Manchester, having joined from Real Madrid this past summer.

Pep Guardiola made an effort to offload his unwanted players, of which four full-backs were included. He replaced them with three younger alternatives, although Danilo’s arrival was a surprise.

Despite impressing for Porto, the Brazilian had struggled significantly during his time at Real Madrid. During the two seasons he spent in Spain, Danilo racked up 58 appearances across all competitions. Considering the team featured in just under 60 fixtures last season alone, that stat does not make for good reading.

It was an attack-heavy style down the flanks which initially sparked interest in his services. The ability to regularly create goalscoring opportunities, adding another attacking edge within Porto’s bow, was predominantly the reason why Florentino Perez believed in the hype with other clubs also interested.

But what became increasingly evident early into his spell as a Madridsta, was his defensive weaknesses. Weak in one-on-one battles, especially against better opposition, it became clear that he was Daniel Carvajal’s understudy.

Though he possesses the engine to accelerate forward frequently, he’s often been caught out by attackers far too easily. Either through switching off or committing needless fouls, he then makes himself an easy target to exploit down the flank out of possession.

You can see why a move away was seen as beneficial for both parties. Danilo is a good player but hadn’t shown enough to warrant usurping Carvajal as first-choice.

With that in mind, you can understand why City opted to sign him. Full-backs of high quality are increasingly hard to find and they could utilise his previous shortcomings to their long-term gain.

Danilo may feel as though he has a point to prove, not least after receiving such criticism of displays in Spain. Under new management with Pep, a more defensive-minded approach could be coached into his game over time and help him improve significantly.

The problem from Pep’s perspective is deciding when and whether to play Danilo.

Versatility an unwelcome headache

Previously a central midfielder, you can see where his confidence on the ball originates from. He’s very much a player who likes to express himself, but has struggled to do so under pressure in various situations.

As a wing-back in Guardiola’s system, he will naturally have more licence to roam forward with speed and create chances from wide areas. However, it’s not as simple as this.

Pep demands more from his players and expects them to adapt accordingly. Danilo is versatile enough to play either in central midfield, or potentially part of a defensive trio. Though, it’s more likely that he would feature deeper within the backline given his physical attributes and existing defensive experience.

Kyle Walker has settled seamlessly since his summer switch from Tottenham, and is currently seen as City’s first-choice at right-back.

Flattering to deceive

Danilo has already played in three different positions, with mixed success. Deployed as a left-sided winger against Brighton on the opening weekend, he was effectively stifled and couldn’t produce much of note in the final third.

His two Premier League starts since were against Bournemouth and Liverpool. He inadvertently created Raheem Sterling’s stoppage-time winner and overall, had a solid game. Despite the task being made easy by Sadio Mané’s first-half dismissal, he nonetheless put in a decent shift against Liverpool during their 5-0 thrashing, too.

Statistics like the one above, can easily cloud judgment on players. Supporters are more likely to praise their unsung heroes after a convincing display, but Danilo has plenty of work to do.

Pep is reluctant to play him because he’s aware of the defensive flaws within his game. Though it’ll take time to iron them out, selecting him over Fernandinho for example in midfield is too risky – not least at this stage of the campaign.

Had Vincent Kompany not been injured and Walker not suspended, Danilo would have been lucky to receive any first-team minutes this term. He cannot yet be trusted with increasing responsibility and Pep’s choice to start Fabian Delph ahead of him in Benjamin Mendy’s injury absence speaks volumes.