Sane deals with his 'ups and downs' on positive return to Man City first team

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The winger has taken his eye off the ball in recent weeks amid developments in his private life, but looked more like his dangerous self on Saturday

As Pep Guardiola put it on Saturday, Leroy Sane needs to learn to deal with the "ups and downs" that happen to players of his age.

The 22-year-old was dropped for City's last match, against Newcastle a fortnight ago, due to concerns about his attitude and focus - despite Guardiola's public insistence that he had no issues on either front, or indeed any other.

Privately, Guardiola was in fact unhappy with the winger's application in both training and matches and he hoped that leaving him out of a matchday squad would provide the required kick up the back-side.

Of course, if Sane has not been paying 100 per cent attention to his football of late then that was partly due to the impending birth of his first child, news that was broken to most outside observers during the international break, when he was forced to pull out of the Germany squad. 

The arrival of a new baby can be a testing enough time for any new parent, especially a 22-year-old, but there have also been rumblings of a family dispute, which has also seemingly taken its toll.

Sane quote

Allied to all that are the more obvious barriers to progress; those body language traits that Toni Kroos highlighted, which are forgotten when all is well but do not help his cause when things are going badly, plus the undeniable fact that Benjamin Mendy has been such an instrumental part of Guardiola's set-up so far this season. 

Sane is stronger staying wide on the left than he is coming inside onto his right, meaning Raheem Sterling has been a more obvious candidate for the role of Mendy's attacking partner.

None of these barriers have been regarded as major concerns behind the scenes, and certainly not comparable to any Jose Mourinho/Anthony Martial scenario, as had been suggested by fans across the city a fortnight ago.

All the same, however, there are one or two things to put right. On Saturday, Sane got his chance.

With Mendy out of the team, due to a knock, Guardiola went back to the the broad 4-3-3 shape he deployed in the France left-back's absence last season. Twelve months ago he converted Fabian Delph and charged Sane with providing the left-sided width, a formula that helped deliver the title, and one the Catalan returned to on Saturday.

In City's first two home games of the season Guardiola has tried somethig new; against Huddersfield he sidelined his fast wingers and packed the centre of the pitch; against Newcastle he emptied the midfield and used something resembling a four-man forward line. 

Saturday's plan was far more orthodox, and within two minutes it was proven to be as devastating as it was last season.

Fulham came to play but that soon cost them when Jean Michael Seri misplaced a pass in his own half, allowing Fernandinho to tear down the left. That is where we are used to seeing Sane but the German found space to make himself useful elsewhere; he was eight yards out to tap in Fernandinho's low cross, the kind of close-range goal City made their trademark as they swept to the title.

For Sane it was a very useful reminder of what he is all about; even if he is not the one terrorising a full-back he still knows his other duties inside out. In a Guardiola team, that is invaluable.

Still, this was not the kind of breathtaking performance that he put in regularly last season, and indeed it was Bernardo Silva, without either a goal or assist, who shone brightest.

Sane did provide plenty of nice touches, passes and darts into space, certainly a mark-up on his efforts at Wolves that caused so much consternation among the coaching staff, and certainly enough to dispel any fears that his early season problems are particularly serious.

Sane quote

Though given Guardiola's words of warning in recent weeks it would be remiss not to mention a couple of late lapses that drew the Catalan's ire. With City cantering towards as comfortable a 3-0 win as you are ever likely to see, Sane did not track Cyrus Christie down into the corner, allowing the Fulham man time to receive a long pass, take it down and put in a cross. In stoppage time Christie was in behind the defence, but could not take advantage.

Guardiola, who has often been given the opportunity to praise the winger but has elected instead to demand more from him, offered a generally positive appraisal of the German's performance, albeit with a vague warning about "ups and downs".

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"We never, even in this period when he didn’t play, we never doubt about Leroy’s quality," the Catalan said after the match. "He showed us many times in the last years, especially last season, and again today he played so good.

"But we cannot forget that sometimes these kind of things happen, he’s 22 years old and these kind of things, a little bit up and down, happen at his age, and he has to realise himself as a professional what he has to do. I am delighted for his performance, a big compliment."

There are clearly still kinks to iron out of the youngster's game, but following an impressive overall performance on the back of so much scrutiny, Saturday was a good day for Sane.

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