Manchester City can't afford slow start for speedy winger Leroy Sane
NEW YORK -- Leroy Sane was named the PFA Young Player of the Year last season, and justifiably so after his brilliant performance in Manchester City's record-breaking title-winning season. Along with teammate Raheem Sterling and Tottenham's Christian Eriksen, the 22-year-old was one of only three Premier League players to break into double figures for both goals and assists.
But the Germany winger actually made a slow start to the campaign, barely featuring before September. He started just one of City's opening six games of the season, playing a meagre total of just 162 minutes. He scored twice in the 5-0 victory over Liverpool but it wasn't until another brilliant double in the 2-1 Carabao Cup victory at West Brom that it seemed he was finally up to full speed.
"He didn't arrive good," Guardiola said midway through September when he followed up that impressive performance against the Baggies with a man-of-the-match performance in the victory of Crystal Palace a week later. "He didn't make a good preseason, he wasn't good in the first games of preseason. He didn't deserve to play."
Guardiola had the luxury of keeping him on the substitutes' bench until all that change. This year, the City boss needs him to be at his very best from the opening games of the season -- the Community Shield clash with Chelsea on Aug. 5 followed by the Premier League opener at Arsenal seven days later.
City sent a record 16 players to the World Cup in Russia and 14 of those will not set foot on a training pitch until the first team resumes their preseason at the Etihad Campus on Monday -- the week of their Wembley curtain-raiser with Maurizio Sarri's side.
Sane is one of a handful of senior players to have been part of the preseason International Champions Cup games in the United States, although he did not start either of the defeats to Borussia Dortmund in Chicago or Liverpool in New York after being given an extra week off. But he made a telling contribution against Liverpool when he was introduced at half-time, showing why he is the quickest player in the Premier League as he raced clear of the Reds' back-four before neatly finishing under Caoimhin Kelleher for City's first goal of the tour.
Guardiola then challenged Sane to be at his peak for the start of the season and wants him to show the desire and hunger needed to get there over the next few days.
"It depends on him," Guardiola told a news conference after City's 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at MetLife Stadium. "He needs more minutes, he needs to come back to his principles in terms of being aggressive without the ball. He has to come back.
"Of course he has all the talent to do that so we are happy for him to score, but he is still far away from his best condition."
Certainly Sane already has extra motivation to be at his very best. His surprise omission from Joachim Low's Germany squad for the World Cup looks even stranger after the defending champions' shock exit at the group stage. But Sane didn't take any extra pleasure from their disappointment and will want to show on the pitch that he deserves a place with Die Mannschaft through his talent rather than the failure of others and that will start immediately.
The arrival of club-record signing Riyad Mahrez adds extra competition to Guardiola's attacking options and even if he was exceptional last season, Sane cannot afford to rest on his laurels. The best way to show his quality and maturity is by stepping up when City need him most and Sane could just be Guardiola's most important player in the opening weeks of their title defence.