The Pep Guardiola era was always going to be one filled with exciting, swash-buckling football, but the first season was one of transition for Manchester City.
Although it took time for the players to adapt to the Spaniard’s style of play, it was worth the wait, as they are now leading the Premier League by five points after nine rounds of matches and their position is justified. They have the best attack, with 32 goals scored, and the joint-best defence, with only four goals conceded.
Although the former Barcelona and Manchester City manager was criticised for his poor first campaign in charge, he will have predicted an initial struggle. He took over an ageing squad and, ultimately, the players at the time were not able to succeed with his style of play.
One of Guardiola’s first signings as manager at the Etihad Stadium, in an attempt to restore a sense of youth at the Etihad, was exciting young Schalke winger Leroy Sane, who played a key role in the team’s win over Burnley this weekend. The 21-year-old played on the left-wing as part of a front three and he was difficult to deal with for the Clarets.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley are well-drilled and regarded as one of the best defensive teams outside of the top six, but the movement and physicality of the 21-year-old German proved too much for them. He is full of energy on the pitch and always looks to make a positive contribution when he has possession on the ball.
His pace added to his upper body strength and technical ability make him an incredible dribbler of the ball. There are few better in the Premier League once he finds his stride and he was at his best on Saturday. During the match, he completed six dribbles and was a live-wire throughout.
His end product was threatening as he attempted two shots and made two key passes against the Clarets, contributing a goal and an assist during his side’s 3-0 win.
Sane’s goal displayed his greatest strengths as an attacker. Kevin de Bruyne played an excellent through ball to the German, who raced clear of the Burnley defence. He then took the ball in his stride and finished confidently into the bottom corner.
It was a well-taken strike and underlined the threat that he poses when there is space behind the opposition defence. Meanwhile, his assist as he delivered a very good corner that was met by Nicolas Otamendi. There were two pieces of class from the German and both led to goals.
How has Guardiola got the best out of him?
The Spaniard’s managerial methods have been widely discussed and it is well-known that he asks for a lot from his players. Guardiola is a perfectionist and he expects the same from the individuals under his charge.
Leroy Sane was signed at the age of 20 for a fee of £37 million. It was seen as an expensive deal at the time, but the City boss clearly believed that he could develop into a leading Premier League player.
His time at Bayern Munich would have alerted him to the talent of Sane and BBC Sport reported the following comments from the manager when the transfer was first announced:
“He is a special talent and an exciting player that I think our supporters will enjoy watching.”
“He is fast, enjoys creating chances for others, works hard for the team and scores goals too. He also has a very positive attitude and will fit in well.”
It was obvious that Guardiola was a huge fan of the winger and it is interesting that he alludes to the attacker’s positive attitude, as this is a key attribute that every player must have if they are to succeed under the Spaniard. As stated above, he demands the world from his players and they must be willing to trust him in order to benefit from his coaching.
The fee was high for a youngster with his limited experience, but Guardiola was buying a player with potential that he could mould to suit City’s needs. His pace and power made him a good profile for the Premier League. Although he didn’t have an immediate impact, he worked hard on the training ground and earned his opportunity.
At the beginning of 2017, Sane was starting to make a name for himself in the first-team and became one of the first players on the team-sheet. However, his manager was keen to keep his feet firmly on the ground. He said the following to Sky Sports after he scored against Sunderland in March.
“We can’t expect at 21 years old that he is done. He still has to perform for 90 minutes, in the game sometimes he can disappear a bit but that is part of the process.
“That is why it is nice to work with young players because you can imagine how they can become better in the next few years.”
Sane will be remembered as the first player of Guardiola’s generation to arrive at Manchester City and the manager’s comments above show the process of development that the attacker is going through. This came at a time when the German was being praised in the media, but his manager wanted to remind him of the long-term process.
Despite featuring in all nine Premier League matches to date this season, Sane did not have a good pre-season and Guardiola openly commented on that to the press, with ESPN reporting the following quotes from the manager on the 21-year-old:
“He didn’t make a good preseason, he wasn’t good in the first games of preseason. He didn’t deserve to play.”
This was a reminder to Sane that he needs to continue applying himself and looking to improve, rather than get complacent after a good first season in England. A lot of young players make a similar error, but Guardiola spotted it early and punished the attacker for poor performances. The response from the 21-year-old shows maturity and underlines his elite level personality that attracted Manchester City in the first place.
During the opening nine matches, Sane has played a key role in Manchester City’s success in attack with five goals and four assists. He is currently contributing a goal every 55.3 minutes, which is superb for a player of his age.
It has been a delight to watch Sane’s development over the last 12 months, as he has grown physically, technically and mentality. His end product is now more consistent, while his ability to bounce back from criticism or a setback marks him as a top-tier talent. He is still at an early stage of his career and has already established himself as a leading Premier League attacker.
For those that doubt Guardiola, just look at the growth of the former Schalke winger over the last 12 months as that is evidence of the manager’s ability to develop elite-level talent.