Bayern Munich’s dominating 3-1 win over Schalke at the weekend was an offensive masterclass. 70% possession and 16 total shots indicate that the Bavarian giants could have scored three or four more, but disappointing finishing did not prove costly on the day. As Niko Kovac determines his best lineup ahead of a Champions League clash with Liverpool, Serge Gnabry’s strong run of form makes him a key part of Die Roten’s best XI.
Not only will the German winger step in to replace Thomas Müller, the former-Arsenal man made his case for regular inclusion against Schalke. Statistically, the crafty forward’s output of a goal, a key pass and a dribble is solid, but that does not even come close to telling the full story of the match. The 22-year-old’s defensive contribution, off-the-ball movement, and creativity on the ball drove the Bayern attack throughout the match.
Let’s take a look.
Gnabry’s defensive work rate and positioning provided exactly what Kovac was looking for as the Bavarians sought to win the ball high up the pitch and aggressively counter-attack. Gnabry’s decision-making in the press and positional discipline helped to keep Bayern’s defensive shape and make like difficult for the Blues.
In the first clip, Gnabry drifts centrally as he prepares to pounce on Sebastian Rudy when he receives the ball. The German then beats Rudy to an errant pass that came as a result of the Bayern press. Just like that, a quick pass to James and a one-touch through ball to Lewandowski results in the go-ahead goal shortly after Ahmed Kutucu’s equalizer.
In the next two clips, the winger quickly pressures the Schalke left-back, who is forced to pay the ball back to the center-back who is under pressure from Lewandowski. Gnabry then cuts off the passing lane, forcing the defender to play a long ball forward. The young wide man then pressures the ball, poking it free to Lewy who plays a deft ball to James Rodriguez. A spectacular save is all that prevents another goal via the press.
What is arguably the most impressive aspect of Gnabry’s performance is the youngster’s work-rate throughout the match. He tirelessly utilizes his pace and strength to torment defenders in possession, and it was on full display in the 76th minute. Here, Gnabry makes up ground and muscles a defender off of the ball before sparking a counter. Unfortunately, the counter amounts to nothing, but the winger’s persistence and athleticism adds a new dimension. Although Thomas Müller is also relentless in defense, Müller’s athleticism limits his ability to win the ball on the flanks when defenders have time and space. The added dimension of the speed with which Gnabry and Kingsley can put pressure on the ball makes it difficult for opposition defenders to play out of the back and relieves pressure on Bayern’s high back line.
His movement may not rival the Raumdeuter himself, but Bayern’s number 22 is a menace off the ball. Gnabry’s pace and offensive awareness constantly allow him to get in behind defenders and penetrate into danger areas. Unlike Müller, Gnabry operates more like a striker in the mold of Timo Werner, as can be seen in the clip below.
Below, the crafty winger immediately accelerates to a sprint after laying the ball off to James. His decision to run the channel discombobulates the Schalke defenders, forcing them to decide whether to stay with James or chase the runner. Gnabry’s blistering pace made their decision to chase him futile, as Gnabry gets to the ball and crosses it into the box.
Yet again, the German international assumes the striker role as Lewandowski drops deep to receive a line-splitting pass from Jerome Boateng. A beautifully weighted ball finds Gnabry running the channel and a reaction-save just keeps the attacker’s right-footed effort from going in. Muller is a master of finding space in the box and centrally, but getting behind defenders with pace down the channel is not something he can reliably do. Once Müller has served his suspension, pairing the him with Gnabry will present a dangerous option at Kovac’s disposal.
On the ball
Lest we forget that Serge’s best attributes are on the ball, his dribbling, creativity, and finishing (albeit not necessarily in this match) add a new dimension to the Bavarian attack that has been lacking since the decline of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery began.
In the first clip below, Gnabry receives the ball at the touch line and begins driving centrally on to his weaker (though still strong) left foot. He plays an incisive pass to his striker after drawing the attention of four (!!!!) defenders. Unfortunately, the Polish hit man is a little quick on the trigger, attempting a through pass instead of playing the ball back to the mustachioed-winger at the top of the box.
Next, Gnabry again stretches the defense to the touch line before cutting in on the his left. Leon Goretzka’s defender hesitates and steps towards a driving Gnabry. The winger coolly plays a pass through the Schalke back line and onto the feet of Goretzka. The German midfielder, however, runs out of angle rapidly and only manages to get the ball onto the side netting.
In the 81st minute, as most legs began to grow weary, the German winger yet again receives a pass on the touch line and puts on a show. Gnabry’s second touch expertly plays the ball around the defender, who he outsprints with ease. Gnabry then cuts to his left, beating two defenders, before the pressure proves too much and he plays a poor pass. Despite the disappointing end product, the run itself was dazzling.
This type of creativity in attack coupled with proven finishing ability is cause for excitement. Serge Gnabry is coming into his own as a playmaker on a team full of world-class talent. Robben and Ribery’s declined has triggered a changing of the guard in the Bavarian capital. Bayern fans can finally rest assured that the partnership of Coman and Gnabry is ready to take the mantle.
I couldn’t go the whole article without showing this little thing of . . . beauty?
Do you think Gnabry is a part of Bayern’s best XI?