If Manchester City fans are asking themselves whether or not Joachim Löw is in-Sane, they should take a closer look at the ultra-gifted young man who pipped Leroy Sane to a place in Germany’s FIFA World Cup squad, Julian Brandt.
Sane’s surprise exclusion from the final 23 will have been met with open-mouthed shock from City fans, who saw their young forward light up the English Premier League champions’ title-winning campaign.
The bare statistics of last season add weight to City fans’ disbelief. Sane was — quite simply — brilliant as part of Pep Guardiola’s English champions. A torrent of ten goals and 15 assists flowed in just 27 top-flight starts as Sane helped City take a suffocating stranglehold on the Premier League. If Sane was so good, Brandt must have been a world-beater?
Well, in short — on paper — not really. The Leverkusen youngster, 22 years old like Sane, claimed nine goals and set up a further three as his team missed out on a Bundesliga top-four finish by the narrowest, wince-inducing margins.
Löw admitted “there are easier days for a national team coach when you have to send home really good players,” but he still bid Auf Wiedersehen Sane all the same. Why? Well, like former City man Samir Nasri, who missed out on France’s 2014 FIFA World Cup challenge despite helping City win the title too, Sane has found that national team coaches look for more than pure performance.
“You have to look at the big picture so we have a variable and well-balanced team prepared for all eventualities. We have good players on the wing in Thomas Müller and Marco Reus. Julian Draxler played a good Confed Cup, and made progress there. It was a tight race between Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt. Both have big qualities, both are good in the one-on-one duels,” explained Löw.
‘Leroy will be back’
“Julian Brandt was at the Confederations Cup, had some strong games there, and put in good shifts in the training camp too. Leroy Sane is a huge talent, no doubt, and he will be back with the team in September.”
When Sane reports for duty ahead of Die Mannschaft’s UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers, Löw will be hoping the former Schalke prodigy will have learned an important lesson: how to adapt to the international team’s game.
Sane’s below-par performance in the surprise 2-1 defeat to Austria compounded his colourless display in the 1-0 loss to Brazil in March. He can hardly argue Löw has not given him a chance: four of the six starts he has made for his country have come in his last six international appearances.
But the key to how Sane performed in those matches is in where and how he was asked to play.
Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation requires wide players who not only can beat their man as both Sane and Brandt can with disarming ease, but also attacking midfielders comfortable holding the ball up with their back to goal and bringing others into play, switching fluidly in the positions behind the front man as well as bursting beyond him.
Brandt, a good fit
It is the role that Bayern Munich man Müller has reprised so fruitfully for the national team without being likely to skin his man like a classic winger, Borussia Dortmund star Reus can also play it supremely well. Sane’s international performances have — as yet — not provided enough evidence he can alter the direct, pace-injected game that electrified City’s season but that has — so far — made him a toothless cog in Germany’s winning machine.
Sane’s problem is that Brandt is just as talented and is a player who — as he showed at the Confederations Cup while his City counterpart underwent nose surgery — can slot snugly and unfussily into Löw’s tactical set-up as he plays it in every game for his club.
“Maybe he has not fully arrived in the national team games,” said Löw of Sane, who has one assist in 12 caps to Brandt’s one goal and two assists in 15. “Maybe that tipped the balance.”
With Löw having already extended his contract through to the 2022 World Cup, Sane will have to try and tip it back, but he won’t be getting the chance to do that in Russia.