In Leroy Sane, Douglas Costa, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich have a quartet of world-class wingers at their disposal this season, making them “even better out wide” than last term, according to sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. But how do they compare?
bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
1) Leroy Sane
“Having four wingers is ideal in my opinion,” Bayern head coach Hansi Flick told Sport Bild over the summer. “In a squad, every position should ideally have two players vying for it.” And with Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic returning to parent clubs Barcelona and Inter Milan at the end of their loan spells following the UEFA Champions League triumph in August, there were lockers available in the Bayern dressing room.
The Reds had already signed Sane by then, their headline recruit earmarked to ensure competition for places and to eke out gaps even against the deepest-lying of opponents. But what is it exactly that the former Schalke and Manchester City star will add?
Watch: The birth of 'Sanabry'
Praised as an “extraordinary winger” by Salihamidzic, club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge gave the best indication of the reasons behind the transfer: “His pace, dribbling ability and drive towards goal make him the perfect fit for Bayern. He’s the player we wanted to have.”
That is borne out by his top-flight record. Even as a 19-year-old in his last Bundesliga season in 2015/16, Sane attempted (264) and completed (120) more than double as many dribbles as Gnabry, Coman and Costa, while he also registered eight goals and eight assists in 33 appearances, contributing a goal involvement every 145 minutes on average.
That continued at City, where he chalked up 25 goals and 31 assists in 89 Premier League games across his first three campaigns in England. Although he missed the majority of last season with a cruciate ligament injury, the Germany international soon showed he has not lost his touch, finding the net and teeing up two more goals on Matchday 1 against first club Schalke in September.
Furthermore, both Gnabry and Coman are predominantly right-footed (as are Coutinho and Perisic), so the arrival of a left-footer in Sane opens up a dimension to Bayern’s game they have not had since Arjen Robben’s departure.
Watch: Highlights of Bayern's 8-0 win over Schalke
And like the iconic Dutchman, Sane favours operating as an inverted winger on the right, able to cut in and shoot on his stronger foot. “I usually played on the left at City, but as a youth player and at Schalke, I played on the right,” he told Kicker.
“My favorite position is on the right wing. I feel most comfortable there. But I have no problem with playing on the left. Pep [Guardiola] helped me learn how to play on either wing. That helped me take a step forward. Many players can only play on one side.”
Sane’s arrival still left another space to be filled, though. And although Flick is a fan of 17-year-old academy product Jamal Musiala – as evidenced by the youngster playing and scoring against Schalke on Matchday 1 – the packed fixture list and ensuing need to rotate meant the Bundesliga champions set their sights on another tried and tested winger.
Step forward Douglas Costa, who had two seasons at the club between 2015 and 2017 before joining Juventus. “Douglas will make us stronger on the wings, which are so important for our game,” said Salihamidzic on the Brazil international’s return to the Allianz Arena.
“With Serge, Leroy, Kingsley, Jamal and Douglas, we’ve got fantastic options now. That gives the coach the opportunity to manage individual playing time in a sensible manner. Douglas already knows the club and will find his feet again here very quickly.
Watch: Costa's top 5 Bundesliga goals
“He’s also made us even stronger than last season in the attacking wide positions: we’ve got two left-footers and two right-footers. They’re four players with diverse profiles who are all superb at dribbling. That will make us more unpredictable.”
Unpredictability is certainly guaranteed with Costa, who dazzled Bundesliga fans in his first stint in Germany with an array of elasticos, step-overs and even a memorable rainbow scoop over Julian Brandt in one game against Bayer Leverkusen.
He has plenty of substance to back up that style, though. Costa hit eight goals and 20 assists in 50 Bundesliga outings in his first spell at the Allianz Arena, and contributed six and 18 in 71 Serie A appearances over the last three seasons, despite being plagued by injuries and primarily used as a substitute.
Like Sane, and indeed all of Bayern’s wingers, he is capable of playing on either flank, although he has been fielded on the right throughout the majority of his career.
As his relatively low number of goals implies, the 30-year-old is much more of a provider than a scorer: in his last Bundesliga campaign Costa crossed the ball into the box from open play every 21 minutes on average, and teed up a teammate to shoot every 32. That is way ahead of the rest of this quartet, with Coman (26/34) the closest to him in those particular categories, followed by Gnabry (47/36) and Sane (289/61).
Watch: Costa's best skills and tricks
3) Serge Gnabry
Where Costa is a provider and Sane an elite-level dribbler, Gnabry is not so much a ‘Jack of all trades’ as a master of them all. He scored 12 and assisted 11 in the Bundesliga last term, his most productive season to date and the fourth consecutive league campaign in which he has reached double figures for goals.
Five of those were struck with his left foot (from 32 shots) and seven with his right (from 61 shots), while three were from long-range; he is arguably the most two-footed player in world football and can score, dribble, pass and play on either wing or more centrally.
It is little wonder, then, that he played considerably more than the other three wide players in Bayern’s squad in 2019/20: Gnabry had 2,203 Bundesliga minutes, compared to 1,506 for Coman, 1,413 for Coutinho and 1,204 for Perisic.
Watch: Gnabry nominated as Player of the Month for September 2020
Add into the mix his four goals against Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League, plus braces against Chelsea and Lyon, and a goal and two assists against Barcelona, and it becomes clear that this is a player who thrives on the big occasion.
And Flick is well aware of his value to the team. “His development in the past few years has been amazing and you can see that he is very close to being a world-class player,” said the 55-year-old during the Champions League finals tournament in August.
He has carried on in 2020/21 where he left off over the summer, grabbing an assist against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 3 to follow his hat-trick against Schalke on Matchday 1.
The Stuttgart native’s understanding with Germany international teammate Sane in that game prompted some onlookers to draw comparisons with Bayern’s legendary ‘Robbery’ wingers Robben and Franck Ribery, whose pincer-like attacks tormented defences for the best part of a decade and were crucial to the team’s ongoing success.
Flick urged caution in that regard, saying “we need to slow down” before making such comparisons, but he did admit that their performances against Schalke had “set a certain standard”. The fact that this season Gnabry has taken on the iconic number seven jersey once worn by Ribery suggests he is not overawed by that weight of history anyway.
Coman would surely have more than the 19 goals in 109 Bundesliga outings since arriving at Bayern in August 2015 had it not been for a terrible string of injuries that have forced him to miss over 80 matches in that period, never making more than 24 league appearances in a single campaign.
The quickest of the four players listed here – he hit a top speed of 22.18 mph (35.7km/h) last season – he also averages more sprints per game (35.1), covers more ground (6.77 miles/10.9 km) and wins more duels (56 percent), standing as testament to his high-intensity, hard-working displays that have endeared him to teammates and coaches alike.
The France international chipped in with four goals and three assists in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, and ensured his name will go down in club folklore by heading in the decisive goal in the Champions League final triumph over former club Paris Saint-Germain to become known as “Mr. Lisbon” in Munich.
“Kingsley has exceptional abilities and he showed today that he can score goals,” Flick said in the aftermath of that game, admitting his “gut feeling” prompted him to select Coman ahead of Perisic, who had started in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
Able to play on either flank, the right-footer tends to line-up more frequently on the left wing, where his jinking runs and willingness to take on his marker can cause any defender trouble: his ruthless tormenting of PSG right-back Thilo Kehrer in the Champions League final was the perfect example of the damage he can do when at his best.
Still just 24, Coman has won the league title in each of the last eight years, spanning spells at Juventus and PSG. A born winner with an unrelenting will to win, the added competition from Sane and Costa will likely only spur him on to even greater heights.