Rouges Reflections: Alphonso Davies shines in UCL, kickstarting big week for CanMNT players in Europe

Ahead of what promises to be a big week for Canadians in European play, Alphonso Davies got the party started on Tuesday, as he and his Bayern side picked up a commanding lead away to Chelsea. Here is a look at that, and how these big Canadian performances abroad are helping boost the country’s stock football-wise.

Every time you set them a challenge, it seems that these youngsters are able to rise up and meet it. 

Be it Jonathan David’s masterful hat trick for Gent over the weekend, or Alphonso Davies’s standout performance against Chelsea in the 1st leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16, Canada’s young stars are continuing to shine in Europe, raising the eyebrows of interested observers on the continent. 

Along with the consistent performances shown by some of their other Canadian counterparts currently plying their trade in Europe, it’s been a fun patch of form for members of the Rouges playing across the Atlantic, which in the long run, should hopefully help other players looking to push up. 

Here is a look at some of these latest developments, and what’s still to come, as Canada enjoys a good week for their male players abroad. 

Davies and Bayern send a statement in win over Chelsea

Despite their inconsistent league form, Bayern has so far been perfect in the Champions League, and that continued in this one, as they beat Chelsea rather handily by a score of 3 to 0. 

While the match itself got off to a slow start, Bayern eventually cruised to the finish line, aided by 3 second-half goals, with Serge Gnabry continuing his hot form in London this season. 

For Alphonso Davies, it was another big stage for him to shine on, and he did just that, earning the plaudits of many for his performance. Be it on the defensive end, where he made some key interventions, to the offensive side, where he produced a vital second-half assist, he was all over the park, giving those not familiar with him a taste of what he has to offer. 

It’s crazy to think that all of this has come at left back, instead of his natural winger position, but his continued growth is a testament to his talent, as he’s adjusted well. He fits well in this Bayern team, who are set up to handle some of his growing pains, which has only allowed him to grow over the course of the season. 

With this Bayern team looking like early Champions League favourites, it appears that the sky is the limit for both them and Davies, who has quickly put the rest of Europe on notice with his performances. After not playing much to start the season, he’s now among the best at his position in Europe, which has been quite the growth for observers of the game back in Canada to enjoy. 

But while it’s still yet unclear how far this Bayern team will exactly go, if this Chelsea match is any indication, they can do some damage, aided by the work of Davies. Despite playing a traditional left back role, at least when Bayern defends, he once again was exciting going forward, adding 2 key passes and 6 successful dribbles. 

While he didn’t have to do as much work defensively, with his 1 tackle being below his usual average of around 3, he helped Bayern weather Chelsea’s offensive patches, adding a few key defensive interventions on both sides of half time. 

After the strong performance of Jonathan David over the weekend (more on that in a second), Davies rose to the occasion in this one, as the pair of 2000-born players continue to make some noise in Europe. 

Which for a Canadian National Team about to embark on World Cup qualifiers, isn’t the worst thing to have going on right now.

David scoring goals, boosting both he and Canada’s European profile

Jonathan David in action against the US in 2019 (Canada Soccer)

In other Canadian Men’s soccer news, Jonathan David continues to rack up the goals, with the latest of his exploits being an impressive hat-trick, one which pushed him up on top of the Jupiler League Golden Boot race. 

After being linked with all sorts of big clubs the week prior, he only added more fuel to that transfer fire with his latest performance, as he put on a show against Sint-Truden, showcasing why many of Europe’s finest are clattering into each other in attempts to secure his signature. 

For an in-depth breakdown of his performance, you can check out this piece on Sportsnet, as Peter Galindo did an excellent job of dissecting his game from Sunday. This time deployed in a more typical #9 role, instead of the usual shadow #10 role he has played over the course of the season, he was a handful for defenders, doing a good job to open up space for him and his teammates. 

Along with Davies, who’s so far proven to be pretty versatile himself, it’s exciting to imagine what these two will do when donning the Canadian shirt going forward, as they seem able to fit in a variety of different systems. Based on the opponent, they can operate in a myriad of different roles, which for a Canadian team that has typically lacked versatility, especially in the offensive end, is mouthwatering.

And, as has become the weekly custom with his performances, more teams continue to throw their names into the hat to try and get him, with Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen now the latest teams to join the race to get the CanMNT star. 

That now puts the list of quality European clubs linked to him over the dozens, which is exciting for not only him, but other U20 players who are yet to have gotten their shot, as this has given Canada a big reputation boost. 

We started to explore the idea a bit last week, and it seems to ring louder and louder by the day. With David and Davies continuing to raise the bar of their exploits each week, these European countries are going to take notice, potentially giving more Canadians opportunities abroad. 

Take this video, as an example. While the content may be bittersweet for some Canadian fans, as it includes the now formerly CanMNT eligible Fikayo Tomori, thanks to the rise in prominence of Davies, it’s getting Canada attention on a big forum, giving them a platform that seems to grow by the day thanks to Davies and David.

With the rise of the Canadian Premier League, which will only give more young Canadian talent a platform to one day join them, this could be the start of a very direct pipeline to Europe. David and Davies are currently leading the way, with the pair of 2000-borns taking all of the spotlight, but don’t forget the likes of Cyle Larin, Scott Arfield, Junior Hoilett and Milan Borjan, all players who have made a difference for some good European clubs. 

As seen by the recent transfer of Tristan Borges, clubs are clearly taking notice, especially in Belgium, who have seen the results first hand with David and Larin (with the latter of which also garnering some attention for a potential move this week). You couple that with Arfield’s continued work in the Europa League, Hoilett’s trips to the English Premier League, Borjan’s Champions League’s exploits and Davies’s all-around brilliance, things are playing out quite nicely for the European-based Canadians, which may prove to have a trickle-down effect. 

So while Arfield, Hoilett, Borjan and Atiba Hutchinson aren’t getting any younger, the rise of these other younger Canadians should give the program a boost, and if any other players join them, either through sales or by cracking first-teams (Liam Millar, Zorhan Bassong, Charles-Andreas Brym, for example), it can only get better. 

But as all of that goes on, don’t forget about David, the starter of all of this chatter. Every time he plays, it turns into box office watching, so don’t miss a chance to see him shine, as he looks to leverage his play into a big summer move. 

Big week ahead for Gent, Rangers

While it’s a big week ahead for a lot of Canadians, with the European League’s continuing their push towards the final phases of the season, along with the kick-off of the 2020 MLS season, Arfield and David have especially big weeks, with some big Europa League clashes looming Thursday. 

For David, he and Gent host Roma, who come to Belgium with a 1 goal-lead in their pocket, thanks to a Carles Perez first-half finish at the Stadio Olimpico. With David being mostly kept in check in that game, with Roma allocating a lot of time and energy to marking him as tightly as they could, the Canadian will want to come out strong in this one, especially in front of Gent’s faithful. 

Given that Gent has never made it past the quarter-finals in Europe, with their best performances being a round-of-16 matchup in the Champions League, along with a quarter-final finish in the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League), this match will be huge. The team currently sits in 2nd in their league, and appear to have one of their stronger outfits in recent memory, so they’ll want to push for the historic result, as beating a big club such as Roma will certainly feel like one. 

With so many eyeballs being on David, given that clubs from France, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands have all made approaches for the youngster, it’ll be a heavily-watched fixture on Thursday, one that could prove to give yet another big boost to the young Canadian. 

Elsewhere, Arfield and his Rangers side find themselves in a slightly better position, as they head to Portugal to take on Braga, with Rangers being holders of a 3-2 first-leg lead. While Braga is in a good position, especially with their away goals, Rangers will feel confident, having come back from down 2-0 to snatch the result. 

And while he didn’t feature on the scoresheet last week, Arfield went a full 90 minutes for Steven Gerrard’s side, playing a big defensive role with his 3 tackles and 1 interception. He might not have had his trademark offensive flair, but he played his part, and will look to do so once again this week. 

Along with the play of Davies, the play of Arfield and Davies rounds off a good group of Canadians making some noise in Europe’s elite club competitions, which for National Team observers, can only help an already-growing team in the future.

Looking Forward

All-in-all, it’s been a strong week for the Canadians in Europe, and it’s only partly done, with the Europa League clashes looming large. With Arfield and David both having a good chance at progressing, the Canadian party may get to rage on in Europe’s two biggest club competitions, which for those football fans north of the 49th parallel, would round off a solid week. 

And with more and more Canadians moving to bigger clubs abroad, this may start to become a regular occurrence, as clubs take notice of this Canadian influx. 

Which for a country still very much in a young growth phase as a football nation, especially compared to someone like their neighbours, the US, is exciting to finally see happen. 

So for now, sit back, and tune into the Europa League on Thursday, and see if the pair of Canadians can make it through to the next round, continuing the fun for supporters back home.

Cover Photo by: Canada Soccer

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