On Wednesday June 27, Germany were being knocked out of the Fifa World Cup by South Korea in Kazan whilst Leroy Sané was sat on a beach in California. Although Sané’s absence from Germany’s World Cup squad meant that he did not have to endure the humiliation that went with it, there is reason to believe that by not being selected, Sané’s confidence has been damaged.
The long summer break allowed Sané to recuperate following a testing yet impressive season with Manchester City in which they won the Premier League and League Cup and broke record after record along the way. It was curious, therefore, that Sané struggled during pre-season and that Pep Guardiola was left frustrated by his lack of defensive effort and unwillingness to track back.
Sané has come on from the bench in all three of City’s Premier League matches thus far, players only just back from a heavy summer workload and a very small break have gone into the team ahead of him. Before facing Wolves, however, Guardiola sounded more positive. “In the past two weeks in training I’ve seen the Leroy that I know and we know,” he said. His 13 minutes at Molineux suggested otherwise.
Poor display at Wolves was evident
A short cameo riddled with sloppiness was encapsulated when Sergio Aguero, on the edge of the Wolves’ penalty area, played a pass to his left. Sané misread it and looked confused as the overlapping Benjamin Mendy took possession instead. There was also an inswinging corner that went straight out of play and a passage of play in a central position when he twice failed to control simple passes.
Mendy’s return to first-team action has been a factor. The left-back is playing so high there seems little need for a wide attacker, meaning that the forward in front is tucking in more often. Guardiola said last week that Mendy was a key reason for Sané’s absence from the starting XI but that fitness was not an issue. “Now Mendy is playing more wide, that is the reason why,” Guardiola said. “He is ready with his physical condition. He doesn’t need much time to get in better condition, it is not about that.”
Mendy's return raises questions as to Sané's position
Guardiola’s assessment carries some weight – as would be expected. Mendy has shone going forward on his return this season, he has three assists which is the best in the league. Against Wolves, his ability to get a quality cross into the penalty area was evident, but his forays forward pose a problem to Sané. Whereas when Fabian Delph plays left-back, he sits deeper and stays out of the areas that Sané likes to operate. Thus, if Sané is to return to the first team, he may have to consider how best to work with his marauding left-back.
For such a highly rated player, this is a conundrum that Sané has not been used to that often. It is more of a psychological test than a physiological one. Sané was the Premier League’s young player of the year last season, scoring ten goals and creating 15, and seemed a certainty to be part of the World Cup squad.
When he was left out there was widespread surprise and criticism of Joachim Low, the coach. He insisted that it was a question of playing style and the winger did not fit in. However, being overlooked appears to have diluted Sané's confidence. By not being associated with the dreadful tournament his reputation was arguably enhanced but it appears to have the opposite effect on the player himself.
Lost confidence needs to be regained
At 22, Sané should also be reaching a point where he performs consistently at a high level. When he arrived from Schalke in 2016, he needed time to develop and adapt to his new surroundings; it was only last season he was fully appreciated.
That stage has now passed and last season’s performances are in the past. He must recapture that form or risk falling further down the pecking order. City, despite Saturday’s minor blip, have more than enough options to proceed without him, it is down to the player himself to recapture his confidence and, resultantly, his starting place.