The knee injury to James Rodriguez has opened the door to a regular first-team place for Serge Gnabry at Bayern Munich. The Germany international has been in great form and may be asked to take on greater responsibility in the Colombian’s absence.
bundesliga.com examines whether the 23-year-old is ready for the challenge…
The record German champions signed the former VfB Stuttgart and Arsenal youngster from Werder Bremen at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, but he went out on loan to Hoffenheim – at his own request – last term, where he registered 10 goals and seven assists in 22 Bundesliga appearances.
Watch: The best of Gnabry's 10 Hoffenheim goals
Now a Bayern player proper, Gnabry has become a key man in Niko Kovac’s side, featuring in every game when fit this season. And since Matchday 8’s 3-1 win at Wolfsburg he’s become a nailed-on starter.
The triumph over the Wolves was in fact the first time Gnabry and James had started together in a Bayern team, which would only happen twice more in the 1-1 draw with Freiburg and the 2-0 win over AEK Athens in the UEFA Champions League. Now with the injury to James ruling him out until the new year, as well as the absences of Corentin Tolisso and Thiago, the burden on the forward’s shoulders has increased.
Although James and Gnabry tend to fulfil different roles on the pitch – the former is more involved in the build-up, the latter out wide and finishing the attack – the Colombian’s time on the sidelines allows Gnabry the chance to really show his importance within Kovac’s team.
The five-time Germany international had previously been seen as a replacement to veteran wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, but the Stuttgart academy product is also more than proficient in a central attacking role, often being deployed as a number 10 or second striker by Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim last season. That position between the attacking lines is where James is usually found pulling the strings, and where Gnabry may now find himself utilised most by Kovac.
Watch: Owo caught up with Gnabry last season at Hoffenheim
While the gaps left by the injuries to James, Thiago and Tolisso are a blow to the Bundesliga champions, there is good news on the horizon with the imminent return of Kingsley Coman from an ankle injury that’s kept him out since the opening game of the season.
The winger’s comeback will provide greater competition out wide in the Bayern squad, allowing Kovac greater flexibility in the attacking third, which could see Gnabry deployed in the James position instead of being needed on the flanks.
Bayern have often stated that their aim is to have the best young German talent in their team, and they have one of those in Gnabry. He’s now an important member of Joachim Löw’s Germany squad having started each of the last three games, in which time he’s scored one and assisted two more playing in a central role with RB Leipzig's Timo Werner and Manchester City's Leroy Sane either side of him.
Those all came just days after he opened his Bayern account with a superb solo run against Freiburg – a game where he proved the champions’ most potent threat.
Add to that an assist each against Augsburg and then Borussia Dortmund, as well as a brace in the 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen on Matchday 13, and the maturing – and improving – Gnabry may just well be the man to fill the gap left by the injured James, who contributed eight goals and 14 assists in all competitions in his maiden campaign with Bayern.
It’s a challenge, but one that a man who moved to England at the age of 16 and scored a hat-trick on his international debut is ready for and will relish.