Window Shopping: Manchester City and Leroy Sane

A surprising transfer story to emerge over the past couple weeks has been Leroy Sane being linked with a move to Bayern Munich. Transfer season is well and truly underway, with lots of stories and rumours being talked about, but Sane to Bayern seems to be one with some legitimacy. Bayern Munich chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has confirmed that they want to sign him and plan an opening £70m bid.

Given how highly regarded Sane is, plus the fact he’s still only 23-years-old, even thinking about selling him feels crazy. With this in mind, I thought it’d be fun to see if there is a case for selling him and how City could re-invest the money.

The Case For Keeping Him

This section could be summed up in just four words: Sane is very good.

Not only is he good, he’s still only 23-years-old – yet has had consecutive seasons of double figures for goals and assists in the Premier League.

His underlying numbers are strong, but aren’t necessarily crazy.

He’s over-performed his xG numbers during his time in the Premier League, which may be due to lots of his shots being from tight angles on the left. While a lot of these may be fairly low value shots, there is an argument that his finishing skill from these situations is strong. Mentioning finishing skill and the likes opens up a whole other can of worms though.

What’s interesting about 2018/19 is that his xG numbers have seriously improved. He went from 0.13 xG p90 in 2017/18 to 0.26 xG p90 this season, while his xA stayed at 0.25 p90 for both seasons.

Given the over-performance in xG, it’s not surprising to hear that his xA is more impressive when comparing to other players in his age range. In 2017/18, for wingers aged 23-years-old and younger, his xA p90 was the 9th highest, 0.11 behind leader Ousmane Dembele. This season he dropped to 12th highest, but was only 0.07 behind leader Jadon Sancho.

It’s also worth pointing out that in 2017/18 only one player above Sane for xA p90 played more minutes than him and only four in 2018/19, which should be taken into account when considering consistency.

While it’s likely influenced by City’s playing style, Sane also had the 2nd most touches in the box in both 2017/18 and 2018/19 for young wingers.

There’s also an argument to be made that no City attacker offers what Sane does.

Sane feels like a much more direct player than the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez. His combination of height, pace, technical ability and intelligence is scary. He can use direct running to exploit space, he can carry the ball in tight spaces, he can whip in crosses or he can pick people out with what’s becoming a signature cutback.

City have one of the most talented and productive young wingers around, he’s had two huge seasons and still has his best years ahead of him. Why would they even consider selling him?

The Case For Selling Him

Being one of the only Manchester City attackers to miss out on the World Cup, Sane seemed perfectly positioned to hit the ground running in 2018/19, but this didn’t really happen. Sane didn’t start until the fourth Premier League game of the season and it wasn’t until early December time where he seemed a regular fixture in the starting eleven again.

This is reflected in his minutes total compared to last season. In 2018/19 Sane played 1984 minutes, down from his 2615 in 2017/18. It wasn’t even a case of City having more options out wide, thanks to the addition of Riyad Mahrez, and rotating more as Sane even played less cup minutes than in 2017/18, despite City advancing further in the FA Cup.

It seems that in 2018/19 Pep Guardiola reverted to inverted wingers, with Raheem Sterling spending more time on the left than the right, while Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were options on the right. If Guardiola wants to commit to inverted wingers, it could be to the detriment of Sane – given Pep seems reluctant to play him on the right.

Not to mention, if he can have better luck with injuries, there is an argument that Benjamin Mendy and Leroy Sane on the same flank wouldn’t be ideal.

A big strength of Mendy’s game, and something which Guardiola would likely want to utilize, is his crossing. This would interfere with Sane’s game, as he tends to be City’s wide option on the left and often looks to take the ball to the byline before playing a cutback. Having both on the same flank feels like two players wanting to do the same job or occupy the same areas.

Sane only played 54.5% of minutes for City in the league last season (using WyScout which includes stoppage time) and you could argue this will decrease if Mendy stays fit, unless Pep starts playing Sane from the right more often.

Given Sane is a hugely valuable asset, it seems as though selling him and using that cash elsewhere to further improve the squad may be better than using him here and there. Guardiola hasn’t shied away from making big decisions before and it seems unlikely he’d stop now.

I also think it’s understandable why Sane’s head would be turned by a move to Bayern. Playing in just over half of the available league minutes doesn’t seem like something Sane would be happy with, while, given Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are leaving, Sane could be a key player for Bayern. They do have Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman who have strong underlying numbers, but Sane is likely seen as better option.

How Would City Use The Money?

This is where things get more interesting. It feels like it’d only be worthwhile selling Sane if City bought a genuine star in his place, but who’s out there?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see City sign a defender and at least one midfielder this summer.

With Vincent Kompany moving to be player-manager of Anderlecht, City are left with just three first team centre-backs (assuming they sell Eliaquim Mangala).

You could argue they might want another left-back. While Oleksandr Zinchenko has done well there and City will hope Mendy has a bigger part to play next season, they have been linked with left-backs and, if Pep wants to play with inverted wingers, having a more natural back-up left back could be useful.

In midfield many expected them to sign a replacement for 34-year-old Fernandinho last summer, making it feel inevitable that it will happen this summer – particularly as their run of bad results during the middle of the season came when the Brazilian midfielder was out. Not to mention, City seemed to be being linked with a few #6 options already, with Atletico Madrid’s Rodri being the main name I’ve seen.

Elsewhere, David Silva is now 33-years-old and Phil Foden is still only 18-years-old, so a peak age midfield option seems as though it wouldn’t go amiss – particularly if Bernardo Silva is pushed back to the right to make way for the return of Kevin de Bruyne.

City have a few combinations they can choose from, while if they sign a new #6 you can argue that De Bruyne, the two Silva’s, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden is more than enough for the #8 slots, but with Bernardo covering two positions and Foden still being incredibly young a move for a second midfielder is definitely understandable.

In attack they would only need a replacement for Sane, giving them four wide options. For this piece I’m only going to take a quick look at wide options who could replace Sane, but I may revisit who they could be looking at in general this summer at another time.

If City wanted to make a huge move, they could sell Sane for ~£100m and put that money towards Kylian Mbappe. I think it’s hugely unlikely, but there are rumours about Mbappe being open to a move from PSG.

With the financial fair play investigation and City needing a few players this summer, it doesn’t seem as though they’d go and splash god knows how much on Mbappe, but you can never be too sure.

Nothing really needs to be said about Mbappe, but his xG of 0.81(!!) p90 was the highest in Europe’s top five leagues this season, while he also had a healthy xA of 0.19 p90. The thought of him in this City side is exciting, but, again, it feels unlikely.

Another unlikely option that doesn’t need much said about is 19-year-old Jadon Sancho. It’s hard to imagine Sancho going back to City, but he seems like he may be the best option out there. He’s played on both wings, (although Sane played from the right at Schalke and still almost never has at City), is incredibly young and has strong underlying numbers.

In 2018/19 Sancho had an xA of 0.32 p90 and an xG of 0.18 p90. His xG is below that of Sane’s from this season, but ahead of Sane’s from 2017/18. You’d have thought his xG is something that can improve further at City, with Sterling providing a good case study for him to follow.

21-year-old Leon Bailey hasn’t been mentioned much lately compared to how he was linked with everyone in 2017/18, but he still had some strong underlying numbers in 2018/19 – he had an xG of 0.2 p90 and an xA of 0.24 p90. He doesn’t offer an inverted option from the left, but he could be cheaper than Sane while offering a similar return, giving City some extra cash to invest in the defence and midfield.

25-year-old Memphis Depay has had another season with strong numbers at Lyon and is apparently open to leaving. He could be an option both centrally and as an inverted winger from the left. In 2018/19 he had an xG of 0.37 p90 and an xA 0.33 p90.

Depay has had huge numbers ever since joining Lyon and certainly seems like he could be an option, but it does feel hard to imagine City being willing to sell Sane to replace him with Depay.

Those four names seem to be the best out there when looking at underlying numbers from last season. There are other big names out there, but they weren’t as productive as Sane.

Conclusion

Before writing this and looking at who else is out there for City, I thought the idea of selling Sane wasn’t too bad. Sane seems too valuable to not be deemed a key part of the team, so if he wasn’t deemed a key part, selling him and using the funds elsewhere seems a decent idea – especially considering City don’t have many players they could sell to raise funds, unless they wanted to make drastic change this summer.

Claudio Bravo and Eliaquim Mangala are two players you could definitely imagine leaving. Fabian Delph could be another, with Zinchenko performing well at left-back, while they could possibly sell Gundogan if they brought in a new #6 and #8. However, unless they sign another #6 next summer, this would leave them with just one #6 again should Fernandinho leave at the end of his current contract.

I’ve seen a few places suggest City sell Nicolas Otamendi, Mendy and Mahrez, but I find it hard to imagine them doing this.

Otamendi would seem a decent option to sell if it wasn’t for Kompany leaving. He’s 31-years-old now, but if City were to sell him they’d have to bring in two new centre-backs, as their only centre-backs would be John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. Bringing in one centre-back and keeping Otamendi at least for next season seems as though it could be the better option.

Mendy has had terrible injury luck and City have been linked with some left-backs, but given they spent ~£50m on Mendy you’d imagine they’d give him a chance to prove himself and stay fit as it seems unlikely they’ll recoup the money they spent on him if they were to sell him now. Unless, due to his injury problems, they’d rather just cut their losses and re-invest.

Finally, it’s hard to imagine them selling Mahrez for the same reason as Mendy – it seems unlikely to imagine them getting back what they paid for him. Not to mention, Mahrez had an xG of 0.38 p90 and an xA of 0.2 p90. He may not have played many minutes, but only Sergio Aguero, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus had a higher xG p90 in the league for City. He may have been expensive, but he is a strong rotation option.

This is why I can understand why they might debate selling Sane. Playing around ~50% of league minutes in 2018/19, he wasn’t exactly indispensable to them. City could sell him and still have enough attacking talent, but unless they’re planning a huge move for someone like Mbappe or Sancho, it just doesn’t feel like it’d be worthwhile to me.

There doesn’t feel like there’s many players out there who could give them what Sane does, while it feels like they need to be investing in defence and midfield rather than splashing out on another attacker. With Sterling, Sane, Bernardo and Gabriel Jesus all 24-years-old or younger, a big attacking signing doesn’t feel necessary.

From a Bayern point of view, however, I think Sane would make a great signing and if they can get him for under £100m it wouldn’t be bad value, considering he’s already one of the most talented players around and he’s still only 23-years-old.

I understand why Sane would want to leave, the prospect of being a key player at Bayern would be tempting for just about any player, but I think City should be doing all they can to keep him and focusing their efforts this summer into the defence and midfield. If this doesn’t happen and Sane makes the move to Bayern, it’s going to be interesting to see how City react this summer and what kind of attackers they’ll target in his place.

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