With long time club servants Arjen Robben and Frank Ríbery leaving at the end of the 18/19 campaign, Bayern Munich turned swiftly to try and secure the signing of Leroy Sane, whilst already having in their possession Serge Gnabry. The mercurial German have pair have received high praise and are touted to be both their club and country’s mainstays on the flanks for a long time. The 24-year old winger is fresh off a brilliant stint with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, playing in three out of four seasons at the club, the last of which he was unfortunate to have been injured through its entirety.
The German’s stint with Bayern could not have gotten off to a better start, he netted once and assisted two other times in Bayern’s 8-0 thrashing of Schalke. In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we would explore how Sane has, and will in the future as well fit fare under manager Hansi Flick’s tactics at Bayern Munich. The analysis would look at Sane from both a tactical and statistic perspective to see what he brings to the side.
Player profile and role
Leroy Sane played out 70 minutes in Bayern’s 8-0 demolition of Schalke in the opening game of the new Bundesliga season, as well as their unfortunate 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Hoffenheim in the second fixture of the season. He has also featured in the 2-1 UEFA super cup win against Sevilla. The 24- year old, however, was again injured from the game and there are hopes that he would indeed return quickly.
Typically, Bayern are seen utilizing two main formation – the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 are used over 60% of the time, and this season has the latter being used 96% of the time. This majorly boils down to how the midfield; their double pivot system take shape and morph as the game progresses and also the type of opponent they’re playing against.
The 4-2-3-1 has been however the go-to formation implemented with positional play under Hansi Flick. In this setup, the fullbacks are given the freedom to join buildup more willingly and often to progress the ball forward to the attacking channels where forwards Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and Leroy Sane typically would operate. With fullbacks especially Alphonso Davies providing width on the regular, the wingers (Gnabry or Sane) are able to drift inwards into the central zones to make up for the lack of a number 8. Ultimately, they are all able to link up well with Müller exploiting the right spaces and wingers playing off of Lewandowski. The picture below shows the position Sane has typically started from.
The German winger has traditionally started his games this season stationed on the right-hand side. His versatility and movement allow him to drift infield and even for regular switching with Gnabry. At City, he would be used as a left-winger for the greater majority of matches. Whilst he was originally a right-winger at Schalke, his time with City has been incredibly beneficial in that he has learned how important versatility is for a winger and can now perform at a high level on both flanks. He possesses many of the attributes that any world-class winger is required to have; technical ability, close control, and the ability to glide past his marker making use of his pace and acceleration. At City, the german enjoyed three great years and sat out the final 19/20 campaign due to an injury sustained early on. He has consistently performed at a high level- he has over 25 goals and 27 assists to his name, which is an incredible output at a young age. The heat map below shows Sane’s positioning from the 20/21 season of the Bundesliga. It is clear as to which position he has been deployed in early on.
The German has been consistent from a statistical viewpoint as well. Below is a bar graph used to put all of the current Bayern wingers (Sane, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, and Douglas Costa) in comparison with one another. The competition chosen for Sane was the 2018/19 premier league campaign because he sat out last year due to injury. For the others, the 2019/20 season was chosen.
Clearly, the German shows solid numbers in each of the departments chosen – he attempts close to 5.02 dribbles per game and also averages 0.96 G+A per 90 and 0.61 xG+A per 90, which underscores his great attacking output from that season in which he racked up 10 and assists apiece. Sane is also very involved around the penalty box, he completes 1.88 passes into the penalty area per game. These numbers are a clear indication of what we can expect from him in the future.
Although it is the early days of the new Bundesliga season, Sane has already shined in each of Bayern’s fixtures- against Schalke and Hoffenheim and also in the UEFA super cup against Sevilla. Wingers from the Bundesliga were displayed on a scatterplot shown below.
As mentioned earlier, Sane is extremely versatile on both the flanks. His stint at Schalke showed us how effective he is at cutting in from the right and at City, Pep Guardiola used him as a left-winger. At Bayern, we have seen him starting games from the right-hand side again, which he says is his most preferred position as well. Two of his predominant positions can be highlighted below.
The German can be lethal when he’s hugging the touchline to launch his attacks, making use of both his pace and stellar dribbling ability to help beat his marker. In addition to this, he is also seen running in behind the defensive lines. He has often been vulnerable to the offside trap as his timing and intelligence of his runs are questionable, but he usually is good at maneuvering the ball both in and out of possession around the penalty area. When he does, the pace he offers in the final third allows him to get on the receiving end of a ball played to him, or even play the ball from the same place to a teammate, recording a large number of goals and assists in the manner. We can see a similar situation in the picture below.
At Bayern, he has been comfortable playing on the right. His ability to cut in and shoot from the right, largely from outside the edge of the box, also makes him a potent weapon to have in any attack and adds another layer to Bayern’s already formidable attacking options. At City, Sane scored thrice from this position.
Sane is an excellent wide creator. The number of opponents he pulls toward him frees up space further up the pitch depending on the situation for the attackers to exploit. Bayern traditionally rely on a few 4-5 good through balls in order to choke their opponent in the buildup. Sane has and will play a crucial role in this- he is an asset both in added verticality and horizontal play. Sane tops the league in both xA and assists per 90 averaging 1.3 and 1.25 per game, although early on in the season these are signs that the German would look to emulate his form from the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons where he recorded 15 and 10 assists in the league.
What’s perhaps the 24-year ole’s stand out ability in terms of his attacking prowess is his stellar dribbling ability. The German attempts a large number of dribbles per game- close to 7.79 dribble attempts per 90 with just over a 52% accuracy. The two dribble situations he undertakes are usually either a dribble followed by a cross or passing movement, or a dribble followed by a quick burst of pace into the penalty area to create goal-scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He undertakes a large number of body feints in order to baffle the opponent and drive past them with relative ease. His ability to make space for both himself and his teammates is remarkable.
Bayern’s attacking shape
Bayern Munich under Hansi flick were already one of the most-well oiled attacking teams in Europe, and with the addition of Sane, it’s fair to say they have strengthened even further. Their attacking flair boils down to the positional play adopted by Flick. Fullbacks pushing forward and forwards tucked inside the half-spaces ready to pounce on any attacking chance available. Their attack, in short, is flexible as well as versatile. When the ball has progressed up to a certain point in the opposition half, the fullbacks will maintain the width and will be complemented by the forwards in the center as well as half-spaces forming an extremely potent five-man attack. Add Thomas Müller to this roaming in and around this line and you have one of, if not the most complete forward lines in the world.
The attack at this point closely resembles a 2-3-5 with an extremely high line. Leroy Sane’s role in this system is to exploit and attack the space left in the central zones as a result of their opponent’s deep block. In case of a turnover in play, where their high-line is left vulnerable to a counterattack, Sane can trackback to contribute defensively as well, although the German rarely did at City. Bayern’s positional play involves each of the players having to occupy a different zone at any given time and be close to each other during play to enable two things – quick progression during the buildup and on the other hand, apply counter-pressing when possession is squandered. On other occasions, wingers would traditionally drop deep into midfield when the fullback is advancing down the flank, and in turn, take a marker with them in-field. Wingers need to possess the technical ability to advance play forward from there and Sane, from his time at City, is perfectly suited for this scenario.
What is perhaps the most striking feature of the Bayern forward line is their incessant switching of positions when in possession which leaves their opponents guessing. In the forward line the players interchange positions each acting on different lines. This leaves at least 3-4 advanced players each at a different position in the forward line; either making a run in behind the line to pass the ball to with through balls or lofted balls, or others to aid in build-up Opposition defenders are in turn choked by this high-speed system and are even penetrated by as little as 2-3 through balls. Switching in positions is also observed between Gnabry and Sane, both very versatile on either wing and difficult for their opponents to deal with.
As alluded to earlier, Sane would benefit from both the fullbacks- Davies and Pavard on his side depending on which flank he starts from. He can either allow his fullback to play the overlap himself operating in the halfspaces or even provide width himself to let his fullback take an underlap forward. An instance that highlights this ability can be shown below.
There are however a few departments Sane will have to improve in order to fully slot into this system. From his time at City, Sane has often displayed his inability to track back in times of lost possession and times where an extra man to help out, in this case, would have helped the side. His pressing game is also subject to criticism and is expected to demonstrate more energy and hunger to win the ball back. There have been signs of improvement in the same.
Leroy Sane is no doubt well set to fit in Bayern’s tactical structure as we have seen from this analysis, and there are signs that he can even emulate Arjen Robben in the future. Still only 24, Sane already has many honours to his name already and experience playing at the very top at City with Guardiola and now under Hansi Flick at Bayern Munich. Having Serge Gnabry as his wing partner both for club and country is something to boast of, the two would form the core attacking duo for years to come.