This season Todd Cantwell has turned himself into one of City’s most effective players and I wanted to give my take on how he has done this after mixed performances last season.
Last season he played 27 games, scoring one goal and creating two assists. This season he has already beaten those stats with six goals and two assists in 21 games in a tougher division.
Last season the Dereham born player showed flashes of his talent, most memorably on his Championship full debut away at Reading, putting a wonderful ball through for Teemu Pukki to score the opener in a game where we could see Daniel Farke’s philosophy finally coming together.
Cantwell’s best performance of last season was, arguably, in the 3-1 home win over Rotherham where he drew City level with a wonderful first-time finish for his first goal in English football, before clipping a wonderful ball onto the head of Max Aarons, who scored his first Championship goal of his career.
Todd then featured in ten of the next twelve games, starting nine and although City carried on their forward momentum the now England Under-21 international did not score or assist. He then didn’t feature for the next eight games in what looked like a season of ups and downs for the youngster, but then his chance came as Emi Buendia needlessly got himself sent off in a 4-0 home victory over QPR.
The attacking midfielder replaced the Argentine for the next two games, but City were firstly frustrated at home to Reading – conceding with the last kick of the game – and were then held to a 1-1 draw away at Wigan. Todd struggled to replace the Emi-shaped hole in the team in both games and was replaced in the 70th and 76th minutes respectively.
After being taken off against Wigan, Cantwell didn’t feature in the next four fixtures as City won promotion and the Championship title. While a lot of the squad were praised for their monumental achievement, some were looking at who would potentially struggle in the division above, with the Dereham Deco being included by many on that list.
I admit I too believed Cantwell may struggle to make the step up to the Premier League, all until the home pre-season game against Atalanta.
In the first half, City battled well against the Italian Champions League team, with Cantwell looking visibly stronger in duals against defenders and an improved composure with his finishing, which was clearly shown with the first goal of the game.
Todd then started the first league game away at the Champions of Europe and showed promising flashes with nice touches and strength in one-on-one battles once again. He then continued this form into City’s first home game of the season, against Newcastle United, striding past the Toon on multiple occasions and setting up Teemu Pukki for two of his three goals in a 3-1 win.
In the following game, in a hectic 3-2 loss to Chelsea, he showed once again his improved composure in front of goal with a well-taken finish for his first Premier League goal. Again, in the next home game, Cantwell scored again by being in the right area in that famous 3-2 victory against Premier League Champions Manchester City.
City did not win for the next seven games, but Cantwell still shone and seemed to be enjoying the style of the Premier League with the slightly less forceful nature of the football allowing players a little bit longer on the ball.
In the 2-0 win at Everton, Cantwell was fantastic, not just another well-taken goal to put City ahead but his incredible work rate and desire to stop the attacking threat of World Cup-winning left-back Lucas Digne. He went off in the 80th-minute and looked visibly exhausted after such a shift.
In the following game, against Arsenal, Cantwell scored another fantastic goal with a beautifully timed pass into the corner of the net as if to emphasise his confidence in being able to find space and the belief in being able to score from any chances he gets.
In the loss against Wolves, Todd again hit the only shot which would be able to beat an in-form Rui Patricio with the ball flying into the top corner but was again in the best position on the pitch when a cross was not dealt with by Wolves wing-back Jonny Otto.
And the City academy graduate kicked off 2020 how he ended 2019, against Crystal Palace, by scoring from his only chance of the game; getting himself in between the Palace defence and picking up the loose ball after Emi Buendia’s dribble and shot.
As already mentioned, the 21-year-old currently has six goals and two assists this season – no English midfielder has scored more.
Along with his improvement in stats, I’ve been so impressed with Cantwell’s all-round improvement this season and fully understand why more established Premier League clubs are looking at him. He has always had self-confidence, but last season had vital parts of his game missing, mostly off the ball with a slight frame and a knack of losing the ball without having the ability to win it back.
Every City fan should give credit to Cantwell who has improved each of those aspects to show why he deserved the massive responsibility of the number 14 shirt. With the off-the-ball improvements, he has earned complete trust off and on the pitch, hence his ability to pick up spaces in the penalty area and get into the knack of being able to score goals with so few chances.
Looking at the improvements Todd has made and the effort we see each week, I can only praise him for proving the doubters wrong, becoming a key member of this side and showing why he deserves to be talked about as a great prospect in this division.