Before you make any assumptions or feel like you’re waiting for a concrete statement on the title of the article, let’s state it outright.
The author of this article believes that Leroy Sané is the best player in the world. Sané may not have the highest number of goal contributions or be the best defender, or even be the most well-rounded player in the world right now. But Sané has been toying with defenders this season with some incredible dribbles and incisive passes and has generally been a productive and frankly annoying presence on the pitch. Combined with a relentless thirst to win the ball back both in the final third as well as when sprinting back, and of course his current average of a goal contribution every match... it is a total package that puts him in the elite of Europe. But what is it exactly that has caused Sané to re-find his best form seemingly overnight? Let’s take a look.
P.S: BFW already has an in-depth look at the offensive tactics of Bayern Munich as a whole, which you can find here. I would highly recommend reading this first as while I will give some minimal information, most of the positional and tactical analysis I do will lie deep in the context of the system explained in the aforementioned article.
Crouching Tiger: Thomas Tuchel’s re-iteration of offensive wildcards
A concept that’s been talked about twice now (once in the aforementioned article, and once in an article last October), Leroy Sané has established himself as Bayern’s latest ‘offensive wildcard’. With the rest of the team forming a pretty consistent shape in most attacking situations, the one exception is Sané who almost always finds himself in different positions. That position is almost always the most dangerous one as the opposing defense looks to compensate for the attacking shape and ends up losing the extra man, which is Sané himself.
As mentioned in the previous Film Room article, Bayern Munich utilise a midfield box on the ball with the wing backs providing width, and we can see the same situation here. Mathys Tel and Thomas Müller (who here is on the ball) form the attacking half of the box, with their connections to the double pivot also marked here with vague lines pointing to where the defensive midfielders would be placed. Noussair Mazraoui and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are marked here too, with their predicted movement patterns marked with red arrows.
These movement patterns are what affect the Werder Bremen defensive shape, as the centre-back looks to track Choupo’s run and thus hangs in the centre to zone Choupo out, while two players look to press Müller on the ball and the wing back tries to cut off the passing lane in behind to Noussair Mazraoui. This leaves a pocket for Sané to sit in, and this causes panic in the defense as the centre-back suddenly realises Sané is free. He begins a run towards Sané, a movement which frees up Choupo to complete a one-two with Müller — which includes a galaxy-brain fake-out from Sané who recognises his position as offside and lets the ball run — before the ball comes back to Sané in the middle to finish the chance.
Above is another example of a goal that utilises this kind of movement, from Germany’s lone goal against Japan. Sané hung wide, forcing the Japanese defense to either stretch and give the man on the ball space or compress and leave Sané in space, received the ball with acres of space due to Japan compressing but not properly cutting off the passing lane to him, and finished coolly first time.
As is clear, Sané combines knowledge of how defenders will react as well as knowing how his teammates look to link-up with each other to position himself in the most efficient way possible, however the above was in a situation where he did not even pick up the ball. Let’s look at how Sané behaves off the ball in less directly dangerous situations.
Hidden Dragon: Movement when in possession off the ball
Sané is often noticed on the pitch standing still or walking, but this must not be mistaken for laziness, as anyone who has watched Sané for an extensive amount of time will take notice of the fact that Sané is almost always recovering from a sprint. Disruptive runs are the core of his game.
Sané always looks to disrupt the defensive shape of opposing teams with an unbelievably high volume of sprints in behind, often with no intention of getting the ball. Rather the aim is to shift the defensive structure to open up spaces for himself or for his teammates. The signature of Sané’s runs is that he always looks to run with his shoulders at an angle to the byline, opening his body to receiving the ball with his chest or with his feet without having to pivot, regardless of whether he is making his run on the outside or on the inside of the defender. Sané is especially effective at these sprints because he is just wicked quick. When he runs, I can hear Jeremy Clarkson stating a ‘nought to sixty’ figure in my head.
In the above situation against France, Sané almost immediately gets into gear for a sprint when the ball comes into the midfield line for Germany, and initially he can be seen making a run to drag the defender away. However, he spots space between the defenders to make a more dangerous run and immediately shifts gears, turning inwards and making the run we see highlighted here which when combined with a good through ball from Kai Havertz results in a goal from a composed finish.
In this situation, we can see once again Sané’s readiness to run to cause problems for opposing defenses. The Borussia Mönchengladbach defense here compacts, expecting Harry Kane and Sané to come short to receive. However Sané, recognising the space in behind, makes the run to disrupt the shape. He is given a pleasant surprise as Joshua Kimmich spots the run too and finds him with a brilliant pass over the defense. Sané is calm under pressure, finding the net after a gorgeous take-down with his chest and a soft side-footed volley.
This relentless mental drive to disrupt defenses whether he is going to receive the ball or not creates havoc and is the cause for the vast majority of Bayern and Germany’s goals in recent weeks. Whether it’s Sané who gets his name on the scoresheet or the assist sheet, his influence in the play is always present.
Rocketman: Quick, direct and skillful on the ball
This one is less tactical, more just an appreciation of Leroy Sané as a technical footballer. Sané is one of the most gifted players of this generation technically, and has been showing it on a regular basis with his actions on the ball. Sané wows every time he gets the ball, with great movement and smart decisions. His flair on the ball is always impressive and consistently effective, but the key part is that it never feels unnecessary. Sané’s skills in tight spaces and fancy passing techniques unlock new options for him rather than just letting him perform a basic function with better aesthetics. Sané’s disguised backward passes and quick changes of pace combined with his fake shots are living proof of how good he can be when he is focused on a task and willing to take the direct route. Speaking of the direct route, Sané’s shooting is as sharper than ever, as despite a few unlucky attempts, Sané’s shooting both from range and from close positions has been fantastic, with some cool finishes and several dangerous launches from distance already being a part of his catalogue for the season.
It would be pointless trying to showcase technical skill with still images so I will just drop a compilation made by the official Bundesliga YouTube channel of Sané’s best moments from the season so far here. Note that it’s only been three games in the club season and he already has two minutes worth of noteworthy skills and moments. Unreal.
Particular highlights here for me include a heel pass to Dayot Upamecano which is perfectly weighted and disguised to where Upamecano is able to run into space freely with the defender blocking the space left flat-footed, as well as an unbelievable fake and change of pace against Gladbach from which the following shot unfortunately only managed to crack the woodwork. However all of these clips are great in general, showcasing Sané’s insane ability to weave in and around defenders seemingly at will. Rarely does such a hard-worker off the ball also have such prodigious abilities when given the ball.
In fact, Sané has made a habit of hitting the woodwork. It’s only a matter of time before that bad luck turns into yet more goal, as Sané has already hit the woodwork at least thrice this season.
Emergency Parachute: The team’s panic button
If you’ve watched that video, you may have noticed that it contained clips of not just Bayern on the attack. There were a couple clips of Sané tracking back to defend too, and this is just yet another dimension of why Sané is so good right now.
With Noussair Mazraoui often advanced up the field, there is of course the possibility of teams countering down that flank. However, Sané has shown his team-minded and hard-working nature by busting his lungs to track back on a consistent basis. This facet of his game has been pretty prominent since the last year or so, but it has become even more prominent under Thomas Tuchel.
This moment from the DFL-SuperCup match against RB Leipzig is the first one that comes to mind, and for good reason as in this clip, Sané made Timo Werner — one of the fastest players in all of Europe — look like he had left his running shoes back home by charging down his shot. This is just one of many instances, as Sané very often can be seen bombing down the right hand side and then the next second putting the afterburners on to counter-press and win the ball back or sprint back to stop a counter-attack. Sané is crucial to Bayern’s defensive solidity against counter-attacking teams. How many attackers can say that?
Leroy Sané is in my opinion the best player in the world right now as he just offers more than every player on Earth currently. He’s one of the best in the world on the ball, with the most dribbles of any player in Europe’s top five leagues, a proven track record of goals from distance, sharp finishing from close range, a great eye for passes in behind and into space, and a great understanding of how to position himself. Additionally he is one of the most annoying players to face as an opposition midfielder or attacker as he never gives up on the ball, counter-pressing with venom and sprinting back to defend and cover up for his teammates.
What do you guys think? Is there anyone better? Can Leroy Sané maintain this form for once? Let us know in the discussion below.