Josh Sargent missed just 14 minutes of Bundesliga action in Werder Bremen's first eight outings of the league season. - © imago images
Josh Sargent missed just 14 minutes of Bundesliga action in Werder Bremen's first eight outings of the league season. - © imago images
bundesliga

Josh Sargent: maturing into Werder Bremen's main man

As reigning treble winners, Bayern Munich are a rather reliable acid test when it comes to gauging a young player's progress, and following Josh Sargent's fearless display at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 8, it is safe to say the Werder Bremen striker passed with flying colours.

Sargent was Bremen's best player in the 1-1 draw, on the pitch from start to finish and setting up Maximilian Eggestein for his side's goal.

The 20-year-old was also Werder's quickest player with a top speed of 19.79 mph (31.85km/h) and had more shots (three) than any of his teammates, and would surely have had a couple of goals himself had there been any goalkeeper other than Manuel Neuer between the posts.

Watch: Highlights of Bremen's Matchday 8 draw away to Bayern

"It's never easy away, especially against Bayern," Sargent told bundesliga.com afterwards, the result leaving the Green-Whites ninth in the standings following a fifth straight draw. "I think we could even have had the win in that game, but I guess we'll take the point again."

It's not often that teams are disappointed to have taken a point off Bayern, but it stands as testament to both Sargent's and Bremen's performances that they were.

Crucially for the 12-time USA international, it was no one-off; far from being the kind of player to only raise his game against the big teams, Sargent has shown he is capable of producing those goods every week. He has started each of Bremen's eight league matches this season, only missing 14 minutes of action in total.

"I'm Mr Reliable" - Josh Sargent has started every game for Werder Bremen this season, with die Grün-Weißen suffering only one defeat so far. - imago images

Even when the older and more experienced duo of Niclas Füllkrig and Milot Rashica have been fit and available to play in attack, Sargent has kept his place in the side.

So why is that? What is he doing in 2020/21 that he wasn't before? Those are questions best answered by his coach, Florian Kohfeldt.

"I stand by the comment I made before the season started: I haven't thought about playing a starting line-up without Josh Sargent in it for a second," said the 38-year-old at the end of October.

"He can't ease off, not even a millimetre. It's unpleasant to play against us and it's difficult to find space. That's had a lot to do with Josh over the past few weeks. He's in great shape, he can go for the full 90 minutes."

That's no mere lip service. Sargent has contested more challenges than any other Bremen player this season (201) and has won a respectable 42 per cent of them - which itself is an improvement from his average of 40 per cent last term.

The Werder No.19 also averages 32 sprints per 90 minutes - again a team high - and a figure also better than his average in 2019/20 (30).

While such numbers may sound unglamorous, they are vital to the modern game in which high pressing and harrying opposition defenders form the cornerstone of many a team's tactics. After all, even Robert Lewandowski isn't above doing the dirty work for Bayern.

"Josh is extremely important for our team," said Clemens Fritz, a former Bremen and Germany midfielder who now heads up the club's professional football department. "The amount of work he puts in, the stability he gives us in terms of defence - I've been really impressed by the way he's executing all that. We need that intensity."

Watch: Sargent settling into life at Bremen

That's not all Sargent contributes though. He is visibly more muscular now, the teenage frame he had when he arrived three years ago having filled out, giving him the physique to compete with senior professionals.

Not convinced? Just look at the way he got past Javi Martinez against Bayern. The veteran Spaniard - a World Cup winner, no less - bundled into him with a shove, not the kind of thing usually blown for a foul but enough to knock plenty of players off their stride. Not Sargent. He kept his balance, spun, out-paced Martinez and crossed for Eggestein to score the opening goal.

Which leads us to the next area where Sargent is taking great strides, and usually the only one that counts for strikers: making and taking goals. He was directly involved in six last term (four scored, two assists) from 28 appearances, but already has half of that tally (one goal, two assists) from just eight matches in this campaign.

"You're on fire, Josh!" - Maximilian Eggestein and Josh Sargent combined to score past Manuel Neuer and Bayern Munich on Matchday 8 of 2020/21. - imago images

Logically enough, that is because Sargent is now also doing more in the final third. In 2019/20, his first full campaign as a professional, he teed up a total of 17 shooting opportunities for teammates. He has already done so 14 times this season. On top of that, whereas he was previously successful with 33 per cent of his attempted dribbles, that tally has now risen to 38 per cent.

In fact, the majority of Sargent's numbers are tracking upward. He's had 13 efforts on goal so far, compared to 29 overall in the previous campaign. A significant change in this regard shows he is also becoming more unpredictable: 62 per cent of Sargent's shots were with his preferred right foot (27 per cent with his left and 11 with his head) last season; this time around those numbers are 54, 23 and 23. In short, he's improving and adding variety to his all-round game in front of goal.

And he is growing in confidence too. He got the better of Jerome Boateng in the 83rd minute to get a shot away against Bayern, and just four minutes later he beat the offside trap but couldn't beat Neuer in the one-on-one. While he may not have scored, half of the battle is getting into the right positions in the first place. And if you can do so against Bayern, you can pretty much do so against anyone.

Watch: A USA groupchat with Adams, Sargent and Reyna

This has not happened by accident for Sargent. Bremen identified the need for more goals and assists and actively set about doing something about it.

"Obviously sometimes near the end of games he's lacked the energy to make the difference in attack, but we're working on getting a good balance with him in that regard," Fritz explained.

"Josh is such an unbelievable team player. We hope his hard work can also translate to goals and that the dam breaks for him." On the evidence so far, that will be in the not too distant future.