A forensic analysis of Leroy Sané’s wonderful assist against Newcastle

In Depth

Leroy Sané’s assist in Manchester City‘s win over Newcastle United on Saturday will count for no more than any other this season, but that won’t make Mo Diame and DeAndre Yedlin feel any better…

Goals, to misquote Gordon Gekko, are good.

They win you games, they get people spending the GDP of medium-sized countries on individual players, and they’re the difference between boundless success and unmitigated failure.

If goals are so great, though, and if Sergio Agüero scored three of them to give Manchester City a win over Newcastle United, then surely I should be writing about him? That’s maybe what you’d think, but that’s not always how things work.

The thing is, we know what Agüero is all about by now. The treble was his second of the season and his seventh since moving to the Premier League in 2011, and it increased his tally for the season to 22 goals from 27 games. As remarkable as that is in isolation, it loses some of that mystique by being par for the course.

What caught the eye more on Saturday was the assist for the clinching third goal, which was all Leroy Sané’s doing.

It is thanks to Sané, and to a re-energised Raheem Sterling on the opposite wing, that Manchester City have been either able – or required, depending on your viewpoint – to utilise David Silva’s talents in a deeper role this season.

The impressive form of both Silva and Kevin De Bruyne has allowed the German to do his best work out wide, regularly ghosting in behind the defensive line and either scoring himself or laying on chances for the likes of Agüero and Gabriel Jesus.

He has been involved in 17 Premier League goals this season (10 assists to go with seven strikes of his own), more than all but four players, and has chipped in with three more goals and assists apiece in the cups, too.

Some of the assists owe a fair bit to others, such as the ball across for Sterling against Stoke after gathering an otherworldly De Bruyne ball, but this one was all Sané.

Picking it up

Look at where he first receives the ball from Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle are known for setting up defensively and this is no exception. Even a goal behind, chasing a late equaliser, they have six outfielders in the 40 yards between Sané and the goal.

But he has no trouble beating more than six men all on his own before rolling the ball across for Agüero.

Past the first two

We’ll give a small bit of benefit of the doubt to Isaac Hayden, already on the back foot after being forced to change direction by Zinchenko’s pass, but Sané’s movement between the Englishman and Mo Diamé is like a bowler knocking down a 7-10 split by rolling the ball into the open space and whispering at the pins to fall.

The burst of pace comes with a faithful nod to the ball to follow his run, as if it is consciously keeping up with his feet and the spell he has it under is mental as much as physical.

While other pacy wingers look like they’re trying to keep up with the ball on their high-speed runs, this is very much a case of the ball straining to keep pace with its master…which explains why the movement that follows comes so easily to him.

As both DeAndre Yedlin and Jamaal Lascelles enter the frame, it looks as though Sané has a decision to make: does he attempt to burst through à la Ronaldo against Valencia, or is it time to turn inside and opt for the lay-off?

Of course, while we were just beginning to contemplate these options, he had already made up his mind and opted for…neither of them.

The shoulder-drop

Sané is no stranger to the shoulder-drop, having arrived on most fans radars with this goal for Schalke against Real Madrid in 2015, but there’s a difference between subtly dropping your shoulder at walking pace and doing so in the middle of a run where your raw speed has just taken two opponents out of the picture.

This on its own shows the brilliant fluidity of the run, during which time several players were in his way, but none were stopping him.

 

Had he followed this move with a ball across the face of goal for Agüero, that would have been impressive enough. Yet, somehow, the best was yet to come.

The pirouette

As he drifts wide, Diamé has re-entered the picture along with Yedlin and Lascelles. The left-hand side of the Newcastle back four hasn’t yet stood on his way, but Sané already has a fifth player to beat.

He has no right to anticipate Diamé’s positioning or line of approach – indeed, the Senegal midfielder could be forgiven for being caught out by that original burst and giving up the ghost – but a tidy outside-of-the-boot pirouette is enough to take both him and Yedlin out of the game, if only for the mere split-second he needs to move onto the next phase of his plan.

Either he knows where Diamé will be, which is impressive enough, or he reacts instinctively to remove his opponent’s chance of an interception by swerving in one fluid motion the moment he sees another black-and-white shirt in his periphery.

 

Remember earlier, when I said he would beat more than six men? None of those six were Ciaran Clark or Paul Dummett, two of the six who began the move between Sané and Karl Darlow’s goal. None were Darlow, either, with the Newcastle keeper staying out of the picture until he was getting nowhere near Agüero’s finish.

Two were Diamé, and then – in near defiance of logic – three were DeAndre Yedlin.

The final swerve

Here you have a substitute defender, fresher than his opponents having entered the field of play barely 15 minutes prior, and quicker than many Premier League players to begin with, unable to deal with the speed of thought and speed of movement of a man who has been running hard for more than 80 minutes.

 

While others are moving with a panicked frenzy, Sané’s mind retains the measured calm of a player casually lining up a free-kick. The only difference is, in the time it takes a regular player to lay out one very deliberate thought process, he is working his way through three, four, however many it will take.

At the end of the season, when the numbers are tallied up, this assist will be ‘worth’ just as much as the final touch from a team-mate before another player’s solo goal. However, when we account for memories and the feeling of witnessing something truly special, we’ll know it counts for so much more.

Quand tu es Leroy, tu peux tout faire.

By Tom Victor


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