After a dreadful performance against Mexico in the World Cup-opener, many went to social media to become beacons of populism by claiming that it was indeed a dumb decision to leave Manchester City’s Leroy Sané at home because he could have helped die Mannschaft here.
Here is GGFN’s Axel Falk to explain: No, he wouldn’t have.
When speaking of wingers, right and left footed, we tend to name a few certain attributes that we claim to be pivotal. They need to be speedy, technical and good at getting behind the backline.
While these seem heavily inspired by FIFA and not by real-life, they still seem to attract fans.
Sané is quick, technical and can get behind the defence, but that wouldn’t have helped against Mexico. Why? Because sometimes pace and technique isn’t everything. Sometimes there is no space to run in to, sometimes the backline is so well coordinated that space behind it is non-existent.
This was the case with Mexico.
In the first half, Mexico had one game-plan. They wanted to sit deep and then counter, they had done their homework and had seen that the flanks were often left exposed. Juan Carlos Osorio started a few quick players up top, Hirving Lozano as the main man which worked wonders.
Chances became a cheap-line article and in the end, they managed to score. The Mexican defence was more fortified than Tenochtitlan in the 16thcentury, better defended than Chitzen Itza and the only space that was to be found was located above the stratosphere.
So tell me, where was Sané supposed to ‘run behind’?
Stating that Sané would have helped is populistic, it’s a simple solution, a quick-fix to a much deeper and more complex issue. In attack, Sané would have done just as much as Julian Draxler, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and Thomas Müller. He would have provided some width but would soon have been encompassed into the box that the Mexicans wanted to form.
Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt would still have bombed forward to create an outlet, it would have made no variance at all.
There’s no doubt that Sané is a fantastic player who will be key for future German sides. We might even miss him during the tournament, as I can imagine some teams won’t field such a deep backline as the Mexicans did. But in this game and against this stalwart antagonism, he would have been as ineffective as the rest of the Germany team.
Another issue seems to be the defensive side that Sané would have provided. Some claim that having Sané as an outlet of pure width, Kimmich and Plattenhardt wouldn’t have had to bomb forward.
These people have a point, but there’s only one Sané and there’s two flanks. Thus, one flank would still be bombing forward, creating space behind. This is another version of the populism, a simple and popular solution to a much more complex problem.
Furthermore, Löw’s attacking tactic is down to overloads. The Germans try to overload the opposition by crowding one special place on the pitch. One of these tends to be the right flank where Kimmich, Müller and Sami Khedira try to drag attention from the opposition.
Put Sané in this system and he would have done the exact same thing as Draxler did. He would have been part of the system, still drifting inside to create overloads.
The German defence against Mexico was difficult to sort out. The two wing-backs bombed forward since that’s what they do and what they have always done. Last summer, that was one of the main strengths of a team that won the Confederations Cup. Wing-backs provided width, which allowed the wingers to drift inside to create space for themselves and their attacking comrades. So why didn’t this work against Mexico? Löw’s tactics are a much better answer to that question than ‘Sané!’.
Last summer, Löw tried the popular 3-5-2, a system that has become hoi polloi among German managers of the younger variety. Domenico Tedesco has used it, Julian Nagelsmann has perfected it and Niko Kovac (Croatian) used it at Eintracht with successful results.
This worked wonders for Löw as he fashioned an extremely flexible system that worked in both directions. The wing-backs were pivotal for the overload, something they created more than often no matter the opposition.
A 3-5-2 allows the wing-backs to bomb forward, because they’ve got cover behind them. This version of 4-2-3-1 simply didn’t work against Mexico, because the wing-backs had no cover when bombing forward. This was not down to the wingers, but due to Khedira’s decayed and flabby nature in the middle of the pitch.
Screaming Sané whenever complications arise is a negative beacon of populism, which we don’t need. We need in-depth and competent analysis, not quick-fix solutions that mighthave helped.
Would Sané have helped? It’s highly deterministic, extremely difficult to answer, as non-history often is. However, judging from the analysis at hand, provided by us and many others, it seems bizarre and populistic, to claim it to be true.
By Axel Falk.