Bayern Munich phenomenon Jamal Musiala excels as a winger, an attacking midfielder, and even as a defensive midfielder. bundesliga.com analyses the numbers the 19-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 previously. "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 in 2020/21 and Julian Nagelsmann since appear to agree with the Germany international: this is the role he has featured in most frequently for Bayern. It's from here that Musiala opened the scoring in Bayern's Supercup victory over RB Leipzig, then struck twice in the 6-1 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 1 and got Bayern rolling in the 2-0 win against Wolfsburg a week later as the young Germany international began the 2022/23 campaign with a bang.
Watch: Musiala's brace helps Bayern romp past Eintracht on MD1
Nicknamed 'Bambi' by club and country teammate Leroy Sane, Musiala is as fleet-of-foot as his namesake and a creative force with the ball at his feet. This role displays Musiala's mastery of the one-on-one and his top speed of 20.3 miles an hour — compared to 19.8 as a defensive midfielder and 20.1 as an attacking midfielder — makes him a handful for full-backs in a footrace. Add to that his ever-bulging eye for goal and you can see how Musiala is developing into a devastating force from out wide.
Of his 13 Bundesliga career goals, nine have come as a nominal winger. And while his starting position tends to be on the left wing, his average position when he starts out wide is far more central than you'd think. By drifting in from the flanks, Musiala is able to slip away from his full-back and get closer to Bayern's central striker in order to pose a greater threat in front of goal.
With Sane, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry all world-class options out wide and the arrival of Sadio Mane at the club this summer, it looked like Musiala would find it increasingly difficult to get regular minutes out-wide. Instead, the fluidity that Mane, in particular, brings to the Bayern attack is allowing Musiala to flourish and the pair shared Men of the Matchday honours on the opening weekend, such was their devastating performance against Die Adler.
Watch: Bayern Analysis: Fantastic Four Up Front
"At the end of the day it's very simple," said Nagelsmann of Musiala before the season got underway. "I praised him a lot but ultimately he knows that if he doesn't perform, he doesn't play. He needs to keep performing."
That message seemed to get through to Musiala loud and clear, who Bayern's tactician described as "world class" after his young charge set the curtain-raising Supercup alight. "[Musiala] played an outstanding game," Nagelsmann purred. "That was world class today!"
With Joshua Kimmich sidelined for six weeks last term, Musiala was employed as a 'six' or a defensive midfielder in Bayern's most-used 4-2-3-1 formation during that run. “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 at the time.
Naturally, it requires more industry than inspiration, and Musiala can provide both. He motors through an average of 7.5 miles per 90 minutes as a defensive midfielder, nearly 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: 65 touches to 60. Perhaps surprisingly, his career tackle completion rate of 48.6 per cent is the lowest of his three roles - 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. "Defensively he's also progressing, especially in this position... 'Bambi' is our nickname for him, but that status goes at some point and he's finding his feet now."
Watch: Jamal Musiala - "I'm not a natural striker"
Flick has also spotted Musiala's potential in a deeper midfield role and has deployed his Stuttgart-born schemer as both a six and an eight for Germany. Similarly, Flick clearly shares the belief that Musiala's versatility is as outstanding as it is useful, with the national team head coach also selecting his former Bayern charge from both flanks and as a No. 10.
The youngster, who was born in Germany but grew up in England, has a preference for the role just behind the central striker and, even when he starts wide-left, he naturally drifts into central areas.
"I'm not a natural striker, he told bundesliga.com after being named Man of the Matchday for a second week in succession thanks to his starring role against Wolfsburg. "I just try to get myself in good positions to try and score as many goals as possible. I think with the team we have, we're going to create lots of chances and I just have to be in the position to put them in."
It may be odd to hear someone with four goals from their first three matches of the season describe goalscoring as something more nurture over nature, but it does make sense when you consider the illustrious career of the man Musiala may ultimately replace for both club and country.
Thomas Müller, the Raumdeuter inventor and serial trophy-hoarder, has made being in the right place at the right time an art-form and said of Musiala last year: "Jamal is a good kid with super skills. You can always use him, which means something at Bayern." Clearly, game recognises game.
And, in a central position, Musiala not only gets more of the ball — 70 touches per 90 minutes — but he is careful with it, too. Despite the suffocating confines close to an opponent's penalty area, his 90.4 per cent pass completion is the highest of any of the three positions he has played in his career. He also tops out at winning over 55 percent of duels from this position, highlighting both his industry and trickery from a central attacking role.
"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 last term.
Nagelsmann has opened the season with Musiala as a central figure in his side, wherever he plays. The talented teenager will only become more crucial to his club and country's plans in the years to come.
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