If you’re looking for reasons why Leroy Sane can’t regularly get in the Manchester City team these days, glancing at the PFA Player of the Year shortlist might be a good place to start. There you’ll find the names of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva.
Those two have been recognised among their peers as being among the best players in the division and justifiably so. The goals and assists provided by Pep Guardiola’s first-choice wide men are a big part of why City are closing in on a second consecutive Premier League title under the Spaniard.
Happily, for City and for Pep, it doesn’t appear as though either are going anywhere in a hurry. Both Sterling and Bernardo – along with a clutch of City’s other most important attackers – have committed to new, long-term deals. That group – for now – excludes Sane.
No one has ever doubted the talent of the young Germany international and when he’s been in the team this season he’s done well enough. He rebounded from the disappointment of a reality-check dropping against Newcastle in the early weeks of the season to become one of City’s form players down the late autumn and winter stretch.
But his appearances in recent weeks have been sporadic and – worse still for the winger – he appears to have lost the trust of his coach for games when it really matters.
City – up until very recently – had been chasing an unprecedented quadruple. The important games – in the league, in the cups and in the Champions League – had been coming thick and fast. But against Arsenal and Chelsea and Tottenham in the league, he was on the bench.
The same was true for the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Brighton. Likewise, against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final in February. And he played a grand total of about 10 minutes while City were eliminated from Europe by a Tottenham side who put four goals past them over two legs.
Bernardo was lost to injury for the first leg but, instead of Sane being given the shirt, it went to record signing Riyad Mahrez. He is another player who might feel he could have contributed more to this City season and he was selected in London as Guardiola clearly felt he would stick to the game plan better than Sane.
In the second leg, however, and with City chasing the goal that would put them through, it was a little harder to understand why Sane was left out. He did affect the game in his few minutes on the field but his involvement was all too brief to make a significant impact.
And uncertainty still swirls over his future.
City – at last check – were confident of convincing Sane to sign on. His current deal expires in 2021 but the player might well have legitimate concerns over how much game time he’ll merit under Guardiola.
Sterling and Bernardo are barely any older than he is, while the signing of another attacker, Joao Felix, is being explored.
Sane might well be sceptical that he will be a big player for City as Guardiola seeks to take them on the next stage of their development.
The game against Crystal Palace – in between the Champions League quarter-finals – was a welcome return to form for Sane but there needs to be more of that in order to get himself back on track.
He was one of the players who should have come off at Newcastle in January thinking he could have done more to prevent the defeat. Liverpool have been so relentless since their own January wobble that it could well have been the loss to cost City their title.
And since then the games he’s started have been of the lower priority variety. He started against Everton, West Ham and Cardiff before that Palace game but it was back to the bench once Spurs came to town last Saturday.
Wednesday’s Manchester derby is probably the most significant fixture left in the entire Premier League schedule. The equation is simple; should City win it they will become overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy come the end of the season. If not, then the advantage goes to Liverpool.
Manchester United are possibly at their lowest ebb since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over, looking lethargic and vulnerable in equal measure. City should have the control and the firepower to complete a hat-trick of league wins at Old Trafford in a row.
Whether Sane will be trusted to do that job from the outset remains to be seen.