Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery have departed, and while Thomas Müller and Marco Reus remain, bundesliga.com has taken a look at the next generation of players in Germany ready to steal the show from Robbery…
The Bundesliga has always been fertile ground for the most fleet of the foot and the wiliest of wingers, and there is no exception now with Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Christopher Nkunku lifting fans off their seats on a weekly basis.
A quartet of (sometimes inverted) wing wizards vying to lengthen a legacy passed on, baton in hand, by Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery is currently setting the Bundesliga on fire with jaw-dropping jinks, fatigue-inducing bursts of pace and subliminal finishing.
Rarely have Bundesliga fans been in simultaneous awe of such a solid contingent of world class wingers and attacking midfielders, but who has the edge?
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Statistically speaking, nobody – be it in the Bundesliga or in any of Europe's top five leagues per UEFA coefficient – can currently hold a candle to Dortmund's effervescent English winger. With 14 goals and 15 assists, Sancho has contributed to 29 of BVB's 68 goals this season, but his influence goes way beyond those numbers.
Watch: The best of Sancho in the Bundesliga
Averaging 75 phases of possession per 90 minutes, no other Dortmund player has been sought out so often by his teammates, and with good reason. There is nothing cocky or arrogant about the way he challenges his opponents, it is simply justified by his talent and confidence. Of the quartet in question, Sancho has attempted more dribbles (143) from more sprints (35.3 per game) than anybody else, combining his top speed of 21.1mph and outstanding close control to torment even the continent's most accomplished full-backs.
Meanwhile, whenever Sancho has scored in the Bundesliga this season, Dortmund have not been beaten. On the rare occasion when he failed to supply either a goal or an assist, BVB were beaten twice and drew the other two, so while it's said that individuals can't win games by themselves, when it comes to Sancho, he certainly helps ensure they don't lose. Dortmund's go-to guy is crucial to a team bidding to bring an end to Bayern Munich's recent hegemony, and this is further illustrated by his 1,145 passes, all ensuring the other cogs in the machine keep rotating, while his clinical touch in converting 58.3 per cent of his big chances is just another argument of many for February's Bundesliga Player of the Month also to be crowned as the king of the wing.
Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich)
Not so fast! Well, when the ball is glued to your foot, as is often the case with Gnabry, speed is not necessarily of the essence when a jink here, and dropped shoulder or a dummy there can do more than enough damage. Bayern's successor to the aforementioned Robben and Ribery has been on the field almost 200 minutes less than Sancho, yet he has still helped the Bavarians to 20 goals this season, 11 delivered directly by is own boot.
Watch: the inexorable rise of Serge Gnabry
Gnabry perhaps ticks the traditional winger box better too, supplying substantially more crosses (40) than any of the others, with three directly leading to a goal and seven setting up at least an attempt on goal. This underlines not only how Gnabry has the vision to spot the killer pass, but also the ability and precision to execute it with inch-perfect accuracy, while he is not afraid to take aim from distance either, with two of his 11 Bundesliga goals coming from outside the penalty area.
Gnabry has also developed something of a reputation for being at his brilliant best in the second half of the season. Having netted at least 10 goals in each of his four seasons in the Bundesliga, the thought of his best still to come this term – where he has already plundered 11 – is a frightening one, with six and eight goals his tally for the winter and spring months of 2018 and 2019 respectively.
While Gnabry gets on the ball less than Sancho – 1,156 times compared to 1,506 so far this season – he is more active in seeking possession and winning the ball back. He has entered into (375) and won (190) more challenges than Sancho (374/168), boasting a success ratio in excess of 50 per cent that many a defender would be envious of, emphasising how Gnabry is not afraid of knuckling down and doing the dirty work for his team, whilst still doing the dirty on his opponents with startling regularity.
Unlike Sancho and Gnabry, Havertz is not an orthodox winger - although he does fill in there sometimes - but then what is orthodox about Leverkusen's tone-setter? Last season, Havertz became the first teenager in Bundesliga history to score 17 goals in a single campaign and while his statistics for the current campaign may not have grabbed quite the same headlines yet, his impact can be better quantified with a closer analysis of his performances for Die Werkself.
Watch: Havertz, Leverkusen's best since Ballack?
Six goals and five assists is still a noble number for a 20-year-old who is increasingly becoming the lifeblood of this Leverkusen team. Havertz, however, has taken a figurative step back, in order to push Leverkusen two steps forward. Occupying a deeper, more supportive role, the Germany international is not getting as regular a sight of goal as he was last term, but there is an argument to be made that remains as sharp as ever. In fact, when within range he has taken half of his six big chances this season, scoring with just 5.7 attempts at goal – fewer than both Gnabry and Nkunku needed to score – and his goals have come from the fewest total number of shots (34).
Where Havertz's importance to Leverkusen's push for UEFA Champions League football next season can be viewed at its clearest, though, is in the extraordinary number of challenges he has made (587) and won (238), averaging 28.4 per 90 minutes. He also covers more ground on average (7.45 miles) than his rivals and delivers more passes to their intended destination, with nearly 90 per cent reaching its designated target.
Nkunku may lag behind his rivals for Bundesliga experience, but the Frenchman is more than making up for lost time in his maiden season in Germany's top flight, and proving that all the hype surrounding his arrival was well placed. With 12 assists from just 15 starts as well as four goals, the 22-year-old is almost guaranteed to have a hand in one goal per game, while the fact he has laid on more shooting opportunities (73) than any of his rivals shows how big a part he has played in RB Leipzig's title push this season.
Watch: Nkunku's rapid rise at RB Leipzig
Getting Nkunku off the ball is quite a challenge, with 29 fouls accounting for more than two thirds of the times he has not succeeded in dribbling past his man. Even in dead ball situations, you can't get the ball of Nkunku, who has become Leipzig's designated set-piece taker, and justifiably so in view of the 39 times he has set up a scoring opportunity from his 87 dead ball executions: almost half of them leading to a shot on goal.
While still finding his feet in the Bundesliga, Nkunku has understandably played fewer minutes. Yet he has used them very wisely indeed to wreak havoc among opposition defenders. As the France U21 international gets increasingly used to his new surroundings, his multi-faceted role and Julian Nagelsmann's philosophy, an increase on an already admirable return can be expected. In the meantime, Leipzig will just have to settle for an almost cast-iron goal guarantee whenever he does lace up his boots, with the prospect of productivity sky-rocketing once his full potential is released.
In Sancho, Gnabry, Havertz and Nkunku, the Bundesliga boasts some of the continent's finest creative attacking talents, and picking between them is just as difficult as stopping them.
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