Just over two months on from Wagner’s move back to the club that gave him his Bundesliga start, how is he getting on?
Wagner’s [re]start at Bayern
Since joining Bayern from Hoffenheim in the winter break to take some weight off Robert Lewandowski’s shoulders up front, Sandro Wagner has made exactly the start you would want from your backup striker.
Wagner has started only 3 games (232 minutes), but has managed to score 2 goals, one of which got Bayern back in the game after trailing Wolfsburg for 56 minutes. He was also subbed on a further 4 times (48 minutes), where he added another goal to his tally. Thus, in his limited time at Bayern Wagner is scoring every 93.33 minutes—that’s at a better rate than Lewandowski himself (94.96).
Could Wagner soon replace Lewy . . . no, of course not! But Wagner is doing a fantastic job within the limited playing time he has received. Since coming back to Bayern he has integrated seamlessly into the team. It’s exactly what was expected of him before his move.
Personal goal: the World Cup
On a similar note: playing no. 2 (literally) to Lewandowski can’t harm Wagner’s chances of making Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad. He has in fact made himself the favorite as a classic no. 9 striker in a heated competition with Mario Gomez, as set out by our own Tom Adams.
Gomez is scoring almost half as often as Wagner—only every 170.25 minutes—since his switch in the winter break, even though he is Stuttgart’s uncontested first-choice striker. Wagner thus may have made the better move even though he is “only” striker no. 2 at Bayern.
While it must be said that Gomez has nowhere near the quality of support from the players around him that Wagner does, it might also be a good move for national coach Jogi Löw to take along another Bayern player with the team to Russia. Wagner is someone who is now used to playing with the likes of Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng—players who will undoubtedly be in the Germany squad—on a daily basis.
Performance at Bayern
Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge did not buy Wagner for him to challenge for a starting spot. They bought him as someone who can come in when Lewandowski needs a break and, importantly, as someone who has the mentality of a Bayern player and won’t miss a beat.
While Lewy is a far more mobile striker, moving out to the wings and sometimes dropping deep to set up others, Wagner brings his own qualities to the field. In games, he provides Bayern with a big, strong presence in the center. His domain is the box, and he does not stray far from it.
Bought primarily to score goals, Wagner has delivered. In the Bundesliga, where Bayern have used Wagner up to now by Bayern, his shot-to-goal ratio is 12:3, meaning that he scored once every 4 shots, a rate of 25%. Lewandowski’s shot-to-goal ration, in turn, is 99:20, meaning that he scored once every 4.95 shots. That’s almost a 20% difference, but it must be remembered Lewy has achieved his stats over a much longer time frame.
Editorial note: if you happen to be a fan of xG (expected goals), it may interest you that according to the algorithms developed by Understat.com, Wagner has an impressive 1.03 xG90 (expected goals per 90 minutes) in his 280 minutes of playing time with Bayern, virtually on part with Lewandowski’s 1.01 xG90 in 1759 minutes. While Wagner will probably regress somewhat and falls short of Lewandowski in other categories, by this metric he has virtually replaced Lewy’s production 1:1 in the games he has played. Both of their real goals correspond almost exactly to their overall xG (3 for Wagner, 20 for Lewandowski). For Wagner, it has been a dream start in his new role.
The bottom line
While it is perhaps too early to talk about the overall impact of Wagner’s signing for the club, in the short term he has proven that he can fulfill the job he was signed for. He is fitting in with the squad and doing the most important thing for a striker: scoring goals.
That allows Lewy to have a breather in these busy weeks. It will be more interesting to see how Wagner performs at the beginning of next season, when he may have less time on the pitch or at least longer breaks between starting games.