After he was mercilessly whistled by Bayern Munich fans in August, Leroy Sane has beefed up his defence to silence disgruntled supporters and justify his 45 million euros ($52 million) transfer from Manchester City.
Sane is set to start away to Benfica in Lisbon on Wednesday with visitors Bayern chasing a third straight Champions League victory to stay top of Group E after wins last month over Barcelona and Dynamo Kiev.
Neither club managed to score past Bayern, who have scored eight goals without reply so far in Europe, and Sane deserves some of the credit after improving his pressing in the opposition’s half.
As Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann points out, Sane has been “throwing himself into the defensive work full force. He has made incredible steps in counter-pressing”.
It’s not always been the case.
Sane joined Bayern from City in 2020, but struggled to make an impact last season as questions lingered over his defending.
His attacking skills are beyond question, as he again showed on Sunday at the heart of Bayern’s 5-1 demolition of Leverkusen to top the Bundesliga table.
As a 19-year-old, Sane marked his Champions League debut in 2015 against Real Madrid for ex-club Schalke with a dream goal from the edge of the area.
He moved in 2016 move from Gelsenkirchen to Manchester and rates his free-kick for the Citizens against his former club Schalke in 2019 as the “best goal I’ve ever scored”.
However, on top of his four goals and seven assists for Bayern this season, he has shown a newfound resolve to win the ball back.
He presses opponents in their own half and also tracks back, as he did to snuff out a Dynamo Kiev attack early in Bayern’s 5-0 win. That was typical of his new determination not to neglect his defensive duties.
In that regards, Sane is “unrecognisable”, according to former Liverpool and Germany midfielder Didi Hamann, now a Sky pundit.
It’s a far cry from the whistles Sane endured in a league game against Cologne in August when disgruntled Bayern fans made their feelings known after too many of his passes went astray and he did little to win the ball back.
“I didn’t want to experience that again,” Sane later admitted.
“I knew I needed time, but it’s not like I sat back. I always work hard on myself and knew it would be tough (at Bayern) because there is a lot of pressure on you here.”
The proof that he has won over Bayern fans came when Sane received a standing ovation when substituted after a strong display – with and without the ball – in a 7-0 thrashing of Bochum in September when he scored with a stunning free-kick.
“It is important for every player to have a clear head so that he can perform at his best,” said Nagelsmann.
“We haven’t given Leroy any special treatment, not even after the whistles against Cologne.
“It’s not advisable to always discuss everything repeatedly. You just have to let him play.”
Sane’s work ethic has also been noted on the international stage.
He scored against Liechtenstein and Iceland in September before sitting on the bench as Germany wrapped up qualification for next year’s World Cup in last Monday’s 4-0 win over North Macedonia.
“He floats across the pitch with an ease. Leroy has outstanding skills, but his self-confidence has returned,” Germany coach Hansi Flick told AFP subsidiary SID.
“Now he also has the impulse to want to retrieve lost balls”.