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Serge Gnabry

Bayern Munich, 2017–Present

Serge Gnabry’s four goals in Bayern Munich’s recent 7-2 victory at Tottenham was just the latest demonstration of why it is the talented 24-year-old’s reputation continues to grow. As consistent a figure for Bayern as he is with Germany, perhaps even the Arsenal supporters most relishing those goals against their rivals would have done so with a sense of regret. Aged 21, he was allowed to leave their club for Werder Bremen for only £4.25m, and having spent much of the previous season barely featuring while on loan at West Brom; once, Arsenal would have been considered the perfect environment for his undoubted potential.

It took only a year at Bremen for Bayern to be sufficiently impressed that they paid a similarly inexpensive £7m to sign him permanently, before loaning him to Hoffenheim to work under the respected Julian Nagelsmann for the following campaign. He returned for 2018/19 – a season Bayern often found difficult as they underwent a transition – and impressed to such an extent as they won the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and German Supercup, that his six assists and 13 goals in 42 appearances meant he was voted the supporters’ player of the season, and he has since continued to impress.

Tactical analysis
Gnabry has proven an extremely versatile player within an attack, owing to his ability to use both feet, and be effective in a variety of attacking situations. If his stronger foot is his right, he can also accurately and powerfully shoot with his left (below). His first touch away from pressure creates the best positions from which to shoot, and he can finish accurately, often finding the corners of a goal.

His single-mindedness when attacking in central areas is regardless a weakness and a strength. His desire to score leads to him overlooking teammates who may be better positioned but, because of his ability to finish with both feet, there are times when he is justified in doing so. If his goals return continues to improve – and he often seeks to shoot as early as possible – he may even establish himself among the finest in the world.

Gnabry is also both fast and strong. He can surge past opponents when one-on-one, and he can also hold and protect possession away from physical defenders before using his power to aggressively turn and potentially shoot on goal, but he continues to struggle aerially, often losing out and therefore failing to secure possession for those attempting to support him.

It is during transitions where he is perhaps showing the greatest improvement. His positive movements create spaces for the ball carrier or for him to receive beyond the final line of pressure (below), and his sense of timing and changes of direction during forward runs make him difficult to track. While counter-attacking he is also less selfish, and more aware of when to combine with teammates.

Role at Bayern Munich
Throughout 2018/19 Gnabry was used in multiple attacking positions, often in support of the prolific Robert Lewandowski, but so far in 2019/20 he has largely been used on the right. He impressively supports a lone striker – Lewandowski’s position within Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 – when his desire to attack through inside channels draws defenders from that striker, or when he moves into spaces if defenders remain with the most advanced attacker.

Arjen Robben once excelled at Bayern with a similar role, and though he sought to drive inside from a much wider starting position, Gnabry can be similarly assertive when in possession; because of his ability to play with both feet, he can be used as effectively on the left as he can on the right, and around Lewandowski. In either role his low crosses delivered to in front of goal (below), powerful efforts across it towards the far corners, and cutbacks make him a consistent threat.

He also complements overlapping full-backs, and in Joshua Kimmich, Benjamin Pavard, David Alaba and Lucas Hernández, Bayern possess some of Europe’s finest. With Gnabry often carrying possession diagonally into the inside channel, space is created for a full-back to advance and provide quality deliveries or incisive forward passes from wider positions, particularly within their 4-2-3-1.

In that same system Gnabry is also increasingly linking with the other starting, wide forward, after moving inside with possession.

The presence of a number 10 – usually the classy Philippe Coutinho – around the lone striker creates a passing gap between the two wide forwards. With Bayern capable of changing the speed of their attack, and opposing defences attempting to put numbers in central areas, spaces open up in wider areas for switches across to, for example, Kingsley Coman or Ivan Perisic to attack from the opposite wing (above).

One of Bayern’s greatest challenges involves finding convincing long-term replacements for Franck Ribéry and RobbenIn Gnabry and Coman, they may already have found them.

Serge Gnabry

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