Bayern Munich phenomenon Jamal Musiala excels as a winger, an attacking midfielder, and even as a defensive midfielder. bundesliga.com analyses the numbers the 18-year-old prodigy has put up in all three roles and asks: what is Jamal Musiala's best position?
"Everyone knows I'm very comfortable in attacking midfield because that's where I have the game in front of me," said Musiala. "But I also like to come down the wings and take defenders on in one-on-one situations. I love to dribble and score goals."
Hansi Flick last season and Julian Nagelsmann this seem to agree with the Germany international: this is the role he has featured in most frequently for Bayern, making 26 of his 42 Bundesliga appearances in a wide position, including nearly half of his 15 games in the 2021/22 campaign.
Watch: Musiala pops up with the winner vs. Mainz
The benefits are stark as Musiala's creativity with the ball at his feet and his eye for goal are exploited to fullest effect. Of his nine Bundesliga career goals, seven have come as a winger, while all four top-flight assists have been tallied from out wide with three already this season.
The role also displays Musiala's mastery of the one-on-one. His top speed of 20.7 miles an hour — compared to 19.8 as a defensive midfielder and 19.1 as an attacking midfielder — makes him a handful for full-backs in a footrace, and contributes to his hugely impressive 57.9 per cent 'duels won' ratio across his career, his highest by some margin in the three positions.
"The question is not why he is not playing, but why someone else is playing," explained Nagelsmann after starting the senior trio and bringing Musiala on from the bench for the recent 5-2 UEFA Champions League success against Benfica.
"He's not doing anything worse than he was weeks ago. The others just got more stable. Leroy, Serge and Kingsley are in very good form. They deserve to play. Sometimes we have six or seven attacking players on the field. I can't pack any more onto the pitch."
With Joshua Kimmich sidelined in recent weeks, Musiala has been employed as a 'six' or a defensive midfielder in Bayern's most-used 4-2-3-1 formation.
“With Jamal, in retrospect, I am annoyed that I didn’t test him at six. I should have done that earlier, I’m annoyed about that," said Nagelsmann, who has given Musiala five of his 10 Bundesliga appearances in the role.
Naturally, it requires more industry than inspiration, and Musiala can provide both. He motors through an average of 7.7 miles per 90 minutes as a defensive midfielder, over half-a-mile more than he tallies as an attacking midfielder.
Unsurprisingly, he is also involved in the game much more than when he plays as a winger: 68 touches to 58. Perhaps surprisingly, his career pass completion rate of 83.1 per cent is the lowest of his three roles, but he has upped that to 84.1 per cent this season, an indication of him settling into an unfamiliar role.
He wins 46.8 per cent of challenges here - the lowest of the three positions over his career so far - though that is understandable given the physical aspect of the challenges, as opposed to the more skill-based one-on-ones he is exposed to as an attacking midfielder or winger. That, however, is something Nagelsmann isn't too worried about.
“He should keep the street footballer gene, but doesn’t have to become Gennaro Gattuso. Defensively, it’s just about reliability," said the Bayern boss, who has seen Musiala contribute two goals in the last three competitive outings — against Barcelona and Mainz — from defensive midfield.
"Defensively he's also progressing, especially in this position, you saw that against Barcelona and again today [against Mainz]. 'Bambi' is our nickname for him, but that status goes at some point and he's finding his feet now. He did well today, again."
"Jamal is a good kid with super skills. You can always use him, which means something at Bayern, even though he's just 18," said Thomas Müller, the Germany and Bayern legend whose place as the team's prompter-in-chief may, ultimately, be taken by Musiala.
The youngster, who was born in Germany but grew up in England, certainly has a preference for the role just behind the central striker. "When I first played at Chelsea, I was striker, a number 9. I always enjoyed scoring goals like every kid," Musiala explained. "With time, I dropped back into a number 10. I have more of the ball there, can dribble more and still score."
Musiala does get more of the ball — 69 touches per 90 minutes — and he is very careful with it. Despite the suffocating confines close to an opponent's penalty area, his 90.8 per cent pass completion is the highest of any of the three positions he has played in his career; he weighs in at 90.2 per cent this season, nearly six per cent better than his next-best mark.
His quality on the ball allied with his superb vision is also providing openings for his team. This season alone, he averages just 20 minutes between an effort at goal or teeing up a teammate to have a shot, compared to 24 minutes as a winger and 25 from defensive midfield.
Curiously, Musiala has yet to score a goal or register an assist as an attacking midfielder, but surely it will come given the "exceptional qualities" Nagelsmann believes the teenager possesses.
Watch: Musiala & Wirtz, Germany's new generation
"He's going to be a fantastic player for Germany, also for Bayern Munich, of that I'm sure. "He's going to be one of the best players out there. For that, he has to keep working," said the Bayern boss, who has employed Musiala in just over a third of all possible minutes on the pitch in 2021/22.
"If he is still at 35 per cent and we're in the final third of the season, that would be rubbish from me. Then we would have asked too little of him. But it's still early in the season and for him it's all about taking steps forward that Leroy, Serge, Kingsley and Thomas also made at his age. For Jamal, it's no different."