Has David Alaba signed a new contract? Is Joshua Kimmich back in training yet? Who else is injured after the last game? Yet there’s one that the Bayern coach tends to dance around whenever he’s asked: will Leroy Sane play this weekend?
Despite signing in the summer from Manchester City for around £55million, Sane has started just five of Bayern’s first 17 games of the season. And, despite a pertinent need to rotate his squad this season, Flick has seemed reluctant to give the former Schalke youth product too much time in his team.
"Leroy had a serious injury so it's quite normal that you need some time,” said Flick in his weekly update of the player’s situation. “But what I see in training at the moment is good. I know from my experience that it's not easy to join a new club and integrate. He's making good progress, we'll see if he'll play tomorrow"
A stuttering start in Munich
The problem for Sane is that whenever he has been given a chance to impress in a starting role for Bayern this season he hasn’t usually shown much to suggest he should keep his spot in the team.
In five stars, the German international has picked up one goal and two assists, and all three of those actions came in an opening-day annihilation of Schalke. Since then Sane has tended to fizzle out.
In a rare start against Atletico Madrid in midweek, the winger attempted just two dribbles, one cross and one shot. Serge Gnabry, who came on in the 60th minute, managed just as many dribbles and only one fewer pass in the final third. And it wasn’t until Thomas Muller was introduced mid-way through the second half that Bayern looked like creating any attacking chances at all.
Indeed, along with a few stuttering starts Sane has also had to contend with a number of fantastic players fighting with him for the two wide positions in Flick’s side. Along with Gnabry, Bayern also have Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman pushing for minutes in both wing spots and so far Sane hasn’t looked nearly as convincing or reliable.
Missing parts to Sane's game
That’s not to say Sane hasn’t done well this season. With five goals and three assists in 11 games, the former Man City star is averaging 0.4 goals and 0.2 assists per game. Which is a higher average than both Gnabry and Costa. But when we look at his overall game it does suggest a player that either hasn’t fitted in entirely to Bayern’s style of play or simply isn’t up to scratch just yet.
For example, Sane averages just 1.53 tackles per match this season. That may not seem all that significant, but it’s pretty tame compared to Gnabry’s (3.5), Coman’s (2.2) and even Muller’s (2.3), Similarly, Sane’s 1.13 interceptions per game is almost one third of Gnabry’s and half as much as Muller’s. And when it comes to ball recoveries, Sane (0.73 per game) once again falls way behind Gnabry (1.89), Coman (1.33) and Muller (1.53).
It may seem a little odd to be picking on an attacking player for how rarely he tackles or intercepts the ball, but it’s this part of the game that Gnabry, Coman and Muller have had drilled into them for years and why Bayern are so good at harassing opposing sides into giving them the ball back. And often, in comparison, Sane just looks rather lazy or uninterested in pressing like his team mates up front.
Flick was once again asked about Sane last weekend, after the forward came on and provided an assist in a hard-fought victory over Stuttgart and gave a rare insight into why he still overlooks the player. “In the last couple of games, he has always scored after being subbed in. That's what makes him stand out and he has quality,” said the Bayern coach. “ But like other players, he unnecessarily lost the ball a couple of times against Salzburg and in some instances, he didn't quite pursue one-on-ones.”
In other teams Sane would perhaps get away with not tracking back or pressing his opposing player because he can seemingly score or create goals at will. But at Bayern the demands are much higher and until he can apply himself to the more defensive, tactical aspects of Flick’s tactics his manager is likely to continue picking players that can like Gnabry and Coman.