January has been a hectic month for Canadian soccer, yet the madness has barely shifted past second gear.
Just when it appeared that the bad news reached a climax following the Canadian men’s national team’s cancelled January camp, Bayern Munich confirmed that Alphonso Davies was diagnosed with mild myocarditis. Canada Soccer eventually ruled him out of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
The ramifications of Davies’ absence for Canada was thoroughly outlined, although there are still tons of uncertainties for coach John Herdman with less than two weeks until the qualifiers begin.
Luckily for him and Canadian fans, there have been positive developments on that front over the past few days.
Tajon Buchanan, who officially joined Belgian giants Club Brugge a couple of weeks ago, made his full debut in the Jupiler Pro League, logging 90 minutes in the team’s 2-0 victory over a rusty Sint-Truiden team on Saturday.
Ironically, Buchanan started as a left wingback in a 3-5-2 for Brugge. Having joined the club for their winter camp in Spain, the Canadian began the first friendly against German second-division side Karlsruher in his usual spot on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1. Curiously, he was moved to left wingback in a 3-5-2 for the second friendly versus Puskas Akademia of Hungary.
With the usual left winger, Noa Lang, suspended for the Sint-Truiden match, that decision made sense, especially after a strong display from Buchanan in the Puskas Akademia friendly.
Coach Alfred Schreuder’s verdict paid off pretty well. While Buchanan didn’t finish with a goal or assist, he grew into the game and enjoyed a pretty solid debut, all things considered.
This was Buchanan’s first competitive match since Nov. 30, so some rustiness was expected. It affected some situations, as Buchanan had two glorious opportunities to score but couldn’t convert in the crucial moments.
Buchanan spent the majority of the first half sticking close to the touchline before drifting inside whenever the ball would move from right to left, as seen in the first clip above. That enabled him to stay off the radar of the defence in the opening 45 minutes, which was fairly uneventful.
However, the second half must have piqued Herdman’s curiosity. Buchanan has played as a left wingback and winger on a few occasions for Canada. But now that Davies is out indefinitely, Buchanan proved why he can be the perfect replacement as a left wingback in a 3-5-2 for the national team.
Once Buchanan received the ball further away from goal in open space, Sint-Truiden right-back Daiki Hashioka had two choices: foul him or get burned.
Hashioka began to pressure Buchanan earlier as the half continued, but this exposed a gap on that flank for Brugge to exploit.
Charles De Ketelaere eventually read the situation and combined nicely with Buchanan on two sequences. That should become a regular occurrence from here on out.
When facing teams that sit deep off the ball, having Buchanan receive the ball further away from the opposing box is a clever workaround. With his pace, dribbling, close control and eye for goal, it’s easy for Buchanan to isolate defenders, cut inside onto his stronger right foot and dictate the games centrally. This is worth noting when Canada plays Honduras and El Salvador, who will surely cede the initiative and try to absorb pressure.
It didn’t even affect Buchanan’s offensive output, either. He still registered five shots, seven touches in the box, completed six of 12 dribbles and 86 per cent of his passes.
Another arrow in Herdman’s quiver could be Theo Corbeanu. The 19-year-old was recalled by his parent club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, from his initial loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday due to his lack of minutes as a winger, but has settled in quickly at MK Dons in League One.
Corbeanu has been deployed as a winger in his first two matches with MK Dons, so that’s automatically a step in the right direction. His full debut against AFC Wimbledon was a joy to behold. Some of his highlights (he’s No. 11) from the match can be viewed in the video below.
There was no such thing as wasteful finishing in his second appearance versus Portsmouth on Saturday, though.
Even if that was Corbeanu’s only involvement in the game, it’s all he needed. It could be the goal of the season in League One.
Portsmouth contained Corbeanu more often than Wimbledon managed, although the winger still produced a couple of shots and was lively throughout.
If Herdman goes for a 3-4-3 or 4-4-2, Corbeanu can be recalled and compete for a spot with Liam Millar up front, so there are endless possibilities for a Davies-less Canada lineup.
BITS AND BOBS
• Jonathan David was back on the pitch on Sunday after recovering from COVID-19. It was an uneventful return, as Lille was reduced to 10 men after 32 minutes and had to grind out a 1-1 draw with Marseille.
• Cyle Larin, who also recently recovered from COVID-19, logged 35 minutes off the bench in a 1-0 win over Gaziantep on Friday. Larin thought he had scored in the dying minutes of the match but VAR determined he was offside.
Larin, who has five-and-a-half months remaining on his contract, reportedly has offers from multiple clubs in top-five leagues, who he can join on a free transfer this summer.
• Staying in Turkey, Sam Adekugbe returned to Hatayspor’s lineup versus Galatasaray on Sunday after missing the last game due to injury. The 27-year-old was back to his old self, completing 23 of 26 passes, three of four defensive duels, six interceptions and 10 recoveries. His highlights can be watched below.
• More good news arrived in the form of Scott Kennedy starting for Jahn Regensburg for the first time since Nov. 20 after battling niggling injuries. Jahn defeated Sandhausen 3-0 to snap a three-match winless run and secure its first clean sheet since October. There were a couple of nervous moments on the ball, but he was solid otherwise.
• Unfortunately for Canada, Junior Hoilett might be injured again. He just returned to the starting lineup on Jan. 3, but seemed to favour his knee before exiting Reading’s match against Middlesbrough on Saturday.
• Stephen Eustaquio is close to signing with Porto on loan with an option to buy from Pacos de Ferreira this month. With Sergio Oliveira being loaned to Roma, that frees up a spot in the midfield for the Canadian, and it’s no less than he deserves.
• Steven Vitoria helped Moreirense secure a massive 1-1 draw with Benfica on Saturday, logging the full 90 minutes in the centre of a back three.
• Stefan Mitrovic is almost guaranteed to be switching clubs this month. Anderlecht and Red Star Belgrade are the current frontrunners for the 19-year-old, according to a source close to Mitrovic. He’s enjoyed a brilliant season at Radnicki Nis so far, with six goals and one assist in 1700 minutes.
• Ike Ugbo did everything except score for Genk in its win versus Beerschot on Sunday. He attempted four shots with an expected goals (xG) total of 0.8. That is an astounding 0.2 xG per attempt, but producing quality shots is Ugbo’s specialty. Unfortunately for him, he ran into a hot goalkeeper.
• Daniel Jebbison finished a match without a goal for the first time in 2022 as his Burton Albion won 3-1 against Gillingham on Saturday.
• In Greece, Derek Cornelius completed the 90 minutes in Panetolikos’ win versus AEK Athens. His calmness under pressure in possession continues to improve, and with Kamal Miller lacking match fitness, Cornelius could be in line for a game or two in this window for Canada.
• Having left Inter Miami at the conclusion of the MLS season, Jay Chapman has landed at Dundee FC in the Scottish Premiership. The 27-year-old is the sixth Canadian-eligible player in the league along with Scott Arfield, David Wotherspoon, Harry Paton, Ben Paton and Sondre Solholm.
• The Canadian Premier League’s all-time leading scorer, Easton Ongaro, is off to the Romanian top flight after signing with UTA Arad. Ongaro received interest from multiple clubs across Europe before selecting Arad.
• Simon Colyn has been deployed as a false nine in recent weeks for Jong PSV in the Dutch second tier, and managed to score Colyn in a 5-1 win over Almere City in midweek.
The 19-year-old has been decent in the role, but needs to be more incisive with his decision-making around the box but that should come with more minutes.
• A special thanks to CanMNT Updates on Twitter for sending a Freiburg U-19 match that featured 17-year-old Canadian midfielder Gabriel Pellegrino. It was a relief to finally compare his data with the footage.
This match against Astoria Walldorf on Dec. 4 saw Pellegrino display his defensive anticipation and composure on the ball, including a couple of line-breaking passes. Pay attention to No. 8 in red with the curly hair.
Here is Pellegrino’s pass map and defensive recoveries from that match as a comparison.
This is based off one match, but Pellegrino should focus on two areas of improvement going forward. Firstly, taking more risks on the ball. In the sequence below, he has space to sprint into off the turn, but opts for a backwards pass instead.
In addition, Pellegrino should show for the ball more often and try to get involved in the game. He sometimes didn’t appear eager to provide an outlet for a teammate, but he has to shake that habit.