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Leroy Sané: Three Players, One Person

Leroy Sane
Foto: Getty Images

Leroy Sané has become a versatile player, first under Hans-Dieter Flick and now Julian Nagelsmann at FC Bayern. Joining from Man City in the summer of 2020, he has played two contentious but acceptable campaigns in Munich, both ending with a solitary Bundesliga title

As is the new normal with staff and player movements, players are generally more adaptable and versatile than they were a few years ago. The evolving nature of football has highlighted the need for adaptability and versatility to underpin a player’s career, most prominently shown by the disappearance of the no 10 playmaker position over the past decade. Previous world-class attacking midfielders, such as Mesut Özil, Juan Mata, James Rodríguez, Philippe Coutinho, and Paulo Dybala, have all vanished from the starting XI in recent years, proving they need to adapt or die trying

The emergence of defensive midfielders to anchor the midfield has seen the attacking lynchpin taken out in favour of defensive stability, with most playmakers starting from deep. As a result, Juan Mata and Philippe Coutinho have moved out to the flanks to play as a winger, James Rodríguez dropping deeper as a box-to-box midfielder, and Paulo Dybala moving forward as a central striker

Conversely, Thomas Müller has thrived where others have failed, playing just behind Robert Lewandowski as a shadowing striker. Not quite a midfielder, not quite a forward, his hybrid role as a raumdeuter is rubbing off onto others, one of them being Leroy Sané

Under Julian Nagelsmann, the fluidity between various systems during a match has seen Leroy Sané play in a multitude of positions and roles. The first being his old responsibilities in Manchester, pinning the width on the left flank and using his pace and technique to carve open the wide areas. Secondly, in a Robben-esque position on the right wing, holding the wide position before working the ball into the middle, spearheading his own attack and bringing others into play. And most recently in Julian Nagelsmann’s 3-2-4-1 or 3-4-3 formation, Leroy Sané has found a new tertiary role as a halfspace winger, playing centrally and leading his movement directly at goal, with others around him for support

There are two types of coaches in football. Those who play with a rigid system and force players to work in said system, or those who play with a fluid formation built around the players they have. Coaches can lie anywhere along this scale, and Julian Nagelsmann is one leaning further to the former. Putting Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman as wingbacks, and Leroy Sané as an inside forward just behind Robert Lewandowski, his players have been required to adapt to the ever-changing meta around the sport

As the season has progressed, Leroy Sané has slowly evolved into a narrow forward instead of holding his width on the byline. His effectiveness may have diminished, and his attacking output may be lower, but his defensive workrate has been monstrous and has significantly contributed to the team’s successes. Looking forward, bringing this defensive contribution into his initial wide-playing role could see his performances rise over the next two seasons. Unfortunately, with Sadio Mané now in the squad, he’ll need to bring this to another level with such fierce competition up top on the left wing

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