Much consternation accompanied the announcement of Germany’s World Cup squad, at least among English football fans. Those who had watched the Premier League for the past season were perplexed by the omission of Leroy Sané, fresh from a highly successful season with the champions Manchester City. After Germany’s hugely disappointing World Cup campaign, it would be easy to claim that Joachim Löw should regret overlooking Sané. Löw had perfectly valid reasons to overlook the City star, but at the same time this can provide a springboard for Sané to make the jump from occasionally unplayable to consistently undroppable.
Germany arrived in Russia as one of the favourites with bookmakers, available at a price of around 5/1 pre-tournament alongside Brazil and Spain. Those two succumbed to disappointing knockout losses but still leave Russia with more pride than Germany, whose group-stage exit concluded a woeful attempt to retain their World Cup title. Germany looked a shadow of their former selves, with Thomas Muller thoroughly impotent and the defence lacking its imperious aura of years gone by. Whether Sané could have made a difference here will remain a mystery. In theory, his pace and natural width could have stretched opposition defences, but Germany’s opponents were so defensively rigid that Sané may have struggled to find space.
Playing as favourites
Sané’s club side will frequently be overwhelming favourites in the same way that Germany were, with Manchester City justifiably short in price with bookmakers to retain their title. Yet City may find it harder than last season. In the same way that perhaps international sides have become wise to the threat of Germany, Premier League defences have an extra year of experience of how to deal with Guardiola’s tactics. This is why there is value in one of the contenders snatching the crown from City, with Premier League betting tips from 101 Great Goals suggesting that their rivals Manchester United may be underestimated by bookmakers. Liverpool and Spurs are likely to be strong again, while Arsenal may be reinvigorated by Unai Emery. City are rightly favourites, but it is unlikely to be as straightforward as it was last season. If City are to retain their title then Sané will have a big part to play, but he will have to find a way to adapt his game against the deepest and narrowest defensive setups.
Sané does have a similar skill-set to Mohamed Salah, blessed with devastating pace and the ability to finish clinically. Salah found a system at Liverpool that played to his strengths and Sané will be better off for a season of acclimatising to the expectations of Pep Guardiola. Salah was barely in the conversation to finish top scorer before the season started, with his team-mate Sadio Mane available at far shorter odds. Sané may benefit from being similarly overlooked. The arrival of Riyad Mahrez is an obstacle, but healthy competition could be what Sané needs to move up a gear.
Considering that one of the reasons Löw declined to select Sané was his doubt over how the winger could adapt to being part of the ensemble rather than a leading role, Sané’s character will be heavily scrutinised in the opening weeks of the season. Aged 22, the time is right for Sané to convert his potential into performance. Sané will have enviously watched fellow young speedster Kylian Mbappé showcase his skills at the World Cup, which will provide ample motivation to ensure that he can never be overlooked by the German manager again.