What is going on with Leroy Sane at Manchester City?

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The Germany winger was expected to hit the ground running this season after his shock World Cup omission, but he is suffering another slow start

It is incredibly tempting to suggest Leroy Sane’s cameo at Wolves last weekend served as a microcosm of his current predicament at Manchester City.

For the most part, he was nowhere near the level required. He came on as Pep Guardiola’s men chased a late winner but twice in quick succession he miscontrolled the ball in the type of area City could have really caused damage, and then he miss-hit a corner so badly that it veered into the stand as soon as it left his boot.

There was, however, a reminder of his brilliance. In the final moments of stoppage time he darted in from the left wing, beating several markers in the blink of an eye and winning a free-kick outside the area.

Think of Sane, still just 22, and that type of run is what immediately springs to mind. Usually, there are far more of those runs than there are lapses in concentration, and usually, a goal or an assist follows soon after.

He finished last season with 14 goals and 19 assists from 49 games. But he didn’t start it very well.

He took a few months to get into his debut season, too.

And it seems to be the same story this time around.

Sane’s surprise World Cup omission was regarded as a blessing by many City fans; he would at least have a full pre-season under his belt and would surely start the 2018-19 campaign in flying form.

But that has not been the case; he was given an extra week of holidays in any case, because he had been involved in Germany’s pre-tournament training camp, eating into his post-Premier League downtime.

That delayed his progress from the off, but there was something else that Guardiola did not like in Sane’s pre-season approach, and not for the first time.

Leroy Sane Manchester City

Last season, Sane started just one of City’s first five league games and it was not until he hit form that Guardiola picked his moment to leak a little bit of his discontent into the public domain.

Invited to praise Sane after he helped tear Crystal Palace apart in a 5-0 rout at the end of September, Guardiola went the other way: “He didn’t arrive good. He didn’t make a good pre-season, he was not good in those games and he didn’t deserve to play.”

This summer Guardiola felt the need to go even earlier. Asked in July whether Sane’s second-half, goal-scoring cameo in a friendly with Liverpool bode well, the Catalan said: "It depends on him. He needs more minutes and he needs to regain his principles in terms of playing without the ball.

"He has the talent to do that and we are happy that he scored. Still, he is far away from his best."

But public displays of disaffection only go so far for Guardiola; when he feels the knives are out, he will close ranks, defending his players to avoid excessive scrutiny.

And after being taken off at half-time of the Community Shield and left on the bench for City’s first two league games, Sane was on the press agenda last Friday.

“In the past two weeks in training, I’ve seen the Leroy that I know and we know,” Guardiola said, indicating that things are better now. “I am delighted about that.

"You know about his performances in pre-season, he arrived late and now he is getting back like Leroy is.”

Guardiola Sane quote

What was wrong with him? Not his fitness, apparently: “He is ready with his physical condition,” Guardiola said. “He doesn’t need much time to get in better condition; it is not about that.”

Not his attitude either, seemingly: “I have never complained about Leroy’s behaviour in the training sessions or matches.”

It is hard to nail down. It is not as if Guardiola will hang Sane out to dry publicly but, according to sources close to the Catalan, there really is no major issue behind the scenes anyway, nothing that can be easily changed or fixed.

There are minor issues with his focus, although they are nothing compared to Benjamin Mendy, who has been racking up off-field issues in recent weeks , though he is still playing, and playing well.

One Guardiola insider has remarked that Sane did not realise that the arrival of Riyad Mahrez would pose a specific challenge to him, that his eye has not been entirely on the ball, but nobody seems to be overly worried.

After all, this did happen 12 months ago, and he had an excellent season anyway, being named the PFA Young Player of the Year. It also took him a while to come out of his shell in his debut campaign, but after Christmas he began to show why City wanted him so much in the first place.

There are no serious doubts that he will find his rhythm but he must also contend with the simple fact that he has competition for places. Not just Mahrez, but Mendy and the implications of his role on the left.

Leroy Sane Manchester City

Mendy’s presence on the left was also a factor this time last season, but Sane only came into the team regularly when the France left-back got injured, and he needed to provide the width instead.

“We have six excellent strikers and not all of them can play,” Guardiola says. “He is not playing playing because we are unhappy with his performance. We have to choose now Mendy is playing more wide. That is the reason why.”

With Mendy in the team, Guardiola wants the player in front of him – whether a winger or second striker – to come inside. This is not Sane’s strong point. Sources close to the City coaching staff have long highlighted the need for him to improve in exactly this area, to get better on his right foot.

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Maybe he isn’t, though; recently in training he has been playing on the right-hand side, so he can move inside onto his stronger left foot, something that proved successful earlier in his career at Schalke.

So far Mahrez and Bernardo Silva have played on the right and cut in, whether Kye Walker has overlapped or not, and soon it could be Sane’s turn.

But that cameo against Wolves, whether rooted in deeper problems or simply a one-off, suggest he is not yet close to winning the fight for a place anywhere in the team. But then again, he wasn’t this time last year, either.