All the talk of crucial absences in the clash between Liverpool and Manchester City centred around Aymeric Laporte and Ederson. The Frenchman has left a big void in the centre of defence and the Brazilian’s distribution and shot-stopping abilities were definitely missed in the 1-3 defeat at Anfield. Liverpool though would have been happier that another player who has tormented them more than most was not going to take the field.
In this burgeoning rivalry between the two best teams in England, Leroy Sane has usually been the difference in recent times. He scored the winner in the title defining fixture in January and was the player who won City the penalty that could have ended their Anfield hoodoo last year. It is another matter altogether that Riyad Mahrez missed that opportunity but Sane prompted a mistake out of the normally reliable Virgil Van Dijk. With four goals overall against Liverpool in two seasons, he is a player Pep Guardiola would have relied on last weekend, if he were available. Sadly for the German, he injured his ACL a few minutes into the Community Shield in August and is only expected to be back in contention next year.
It may be crazy to suggest that a team that has scored thirty-five goals in twelve games this season misses an attacker, but City could have done with him in a few matches. It is clear that Pep does not trust Sane as much as he does Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, with the player’s demeanour and choices on and off the field a bone of contention for a while now. There is a maverick element to the winger’s play that struggles to find its place in Guardiola’s system and it manifested itself in the second half of last season. Sane found himself relegated to the bench far too often for his liking and that possibly triggered his flirtation with Bayern Munich over the summer.
Guardiola himself has given the impression that while he would like Sane to stay, he would not be devastated if the German were to eventually leave. This could be a mistake on his part. With every passing season, Pep’s philosophy ingrains itself further into the DNA of the club and his players. How would it not, with the manager taking every opportunity to turn on-field decisions from his players that he does not approve of into teachable moments, often in public.
In a way, this has made his build-up play more predictable and the more opponents in the league have played against his sides, the more well-versed to his methods they seem to have become. This has shown up in the way teams have chosen to attack City this season and also in how low-blocks have evolved to counter the Mancunian team’s obvious strengths. This is where Sane’s pace, directness and ability to turn defenders square would have come in handy. A late substitution appearance by the German with fifteen minutes to go was every tiring right-back’s biggest nightmare last season.
As this campaign progresses, it is quite possible that Guardiola’s heart will grow fonder in the winger’s absence and he may truly appreciate the talent at his disposal. Sane could yet make a huge difference in the latter stages of the season and make a case for a regular starting berth. The fear in Manchester however, is that the player has decided that his long-term future lies elsewhere. The fact that everyone’s been on about Laporte with barely a mention about him in larger conversations about City would not have escaped the player. With Bayern still circling, the Guardiola love-in, if it does arrive, could be making an appearance far too late.