Leroy Sane’s currently out on international duty with the German national team | Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
On the surface, Leroy Sane’s summer switch to Bayern Munich seems like the ultimate example of the rich getting richer.
Since his November arrival, Hansi Flick has put the middle finger up to Bayern’s supposed transitional period following 18 months of Niko Kovac’s pragmatism in Bavaria, instead reforming an unravelling Die Roten unit into the champions of Europe and treble winners.
Bayern Munich are the best team on the planet | Pool/Getty Images
Flick’s rediscovery of supreme positional play in and out of possession has led to spellbinding results. They’re the best team on the planet, and now they’ve added an electric winger to their ranks for a relatively tame £54.8m fee.
It’s just not fair.
With the German’s gazelle-like gallop, ghostly off-the-ball movement and killer instinct in the final third, Sané is set to be a hit in Flick’s system which preaches fluidity, third-man runs and pure speed.
However, it won’t be all plain sailing for the 24-year-old. It won’t be a simple case of Sané becoming an immediate superstar. He’ll have to adjust.
First off, there’s no guarantee he’ll play on the left. Serge Gnabry has often been deployed down that flank as an inverted winger who occupies the half-space – a phrase common in German football which describes the vertical zone between the centre of the pitch and the wing – to draw opposing full-backs narrow and allow ‘roadrunner’ Alphonso Davies to exploit the space in behind.
The dynamic between Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies down Bayern’s left is perfect | MIGUEL A. LOPES/Getty Images
The pair’s understanding of one another’s movements is almost telepathic and was a feature of Flick’s Bayern before Gnabry switched over to the right for the European epilogue last month.
If Sané was to be utilised on the left-wing in the same way he was at City, this would hinder the dynamic between winger and left-back. In short, Sané and Davies would often be occupying the same vertical strip, with minimal room for the Canadian to overlap.
It’s the primary reason as to why marauding left-back Benjamin Mendy was never used when Sané was in the side, with Guardiola opting for an inverted full-back in the form of Fabian Delph instead – allowing Sané to isolate his marker one-on-one.
In order for things to work out on the left with Davies, one Davies or Sané will need to adjust; Sané needs to be more comfortable at drifting inside, using his right foot and taking up positions in the half-space, or underlapping runs will have to become more prominent in Davies’ game.
The German was instrumental in City’s 2017/18 ‘Centurions’ season before falling out of favour a season later | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Thus, if Flick decides to keep Sané on his favoured left, Gnabry will switch over to the right at the expense of Kingsley Coman – with an imperious Thomas Müller retaining his place as the number ten.
An alternative, however – which seems the most logical and likely – is moving Sané over to the right.
If this was to be the case, there would be a greater onus on the German to beat defenders one-on-one as a result of the more conservative Benjamin Pavard behind him, providing he stays at right-back.
While technically proficient, the Frenchman is certainly a less prolific overlapper compared to Davies, thus creating fewer two-v-ones and overall dilemmas for defenders. In addition, combinations with Raumdeuter Müller and Robert Lewandowski – who both like to overload the right half-space – will be prominent, and somewhat similar to Sané’s deadly combination with David Silva in Manchester
Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller love to overload the right-hand side | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
However, the methods in terms of goal and assist production will be altered with a switch to the opposite flank. As opposed to bursts in behind and drilled crosses across goal, combination play in-field, deft through balls and Arjen Robben-esque finishes following a jink inside could evolve into three notable facets of Sané’s game.
If deployed as an inverted winger, expect the German’s production, especially from a creative standpoint, to surge in the Bundesliga.
The other notable adjustment is his output in the defensive phase, with Guardiola previously leaving Sané out of matchday squads due to an attitude issue. These problems would arise following a City turnover, where instead of capitalising on the opportune time to counter-press, Sané was often seen complaining and moaning, or merely stood still.
This just can’t happen in Flick’s Bayern side, where counter-pressing is a key principle in the German’s system. It’s Die Roten’s aggression following a turnover which allows them to play such a high defensive line and, well, get away with it. They’re so well-drilled.
Hansi Flick won’t stand for any lax play out of possession | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
To contextualise this, Sané between 2017 and 2019 averaged 4.87 successful pressures per 90 minutes, a figure lower than all of Flick’s current preferred attacking options last term; Müller (8.45), Gnabry (5.61) and Coman (5.71).
In terms of total pressures in the attacking third – a useful metric for not only high-pressing frequency but counter-pressing as well – Sané’s 5.39 average per 90 from his last two injury-free campaigns is once again lower than Bayern’s aforementioned trio – Coman’s 6.95 is the German’s closest rival.
It’s believed the 24-year-old’s sub-par defensive nous was a major factor in Guardiola favouring the likes of Bernardo Silva before his ACL tear last summer.
There’s no denying Sane’s capacity to evolve into a superstar and he’s certainly in the right place to develop | Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Nevertheless, only slight adjustments will have to be made in this department, but as shown with Philippe Coutinho during his Bavarian loan spell, Flick will quite willingly restrict Sané’s game time if lapses out of possession – in counter-pressing situations especially – become a regularity.
And although it appears Sané – when you delve a little deeper – perhaps won’t have it all his own way when the 2020/21 Bundesliga season gets underway later this month, his outlandish talent combined with Flick’s coaching should see the 24-year-old moulded into the superstar he’s destined to become.