Serge Gnabry started his professional career by in 2010 when he joined Arsenal. His four-year spell in England marked a series of impressive performances, a serious knee injury in the 2014-15 season and a poor loan spell at West Bromwich Albion.
Gnabry’s started showing glimpses of his true potential when he made a switch back to Germany, joining Werder Bremen for a reported transfer fee of £5 million on 31 August 2016. His stellar performances for Bremen eventually earned him a move to Bayern. The Bundesliga champions allowed him to develop further by sending him on loan to Hoffenheim.
Gnabry has enjoyed an impressive time in Germany as he hit double figures in goals every season along with 11 assists in 79 league appearances (Stats courtesy: ESPN). In the 2018-19 season, Gnabry played a vital role in helping Bayern defend their Bundesliga title for 7th time in a row. He also managed to add a personal accolade to his name as he won the Fans’ Player of the Year. His impressive performances were also rewarded by Die Roten with a new contract.
With just three days before Bayern kick-off their new Bundesliga campaign, we look at how Niko Kovac can use Gnabry in the number ten role to help Gnabry to improve his performances and take team’s attacking play to next level.
Playing Gnabry behind Robert Lewandowski, in the number ten role might not make sense for many fans out there, as this move will demote Thomas Muller to the bench. However, Muller has struggled to find consistency in the final third for the past couple of seasons. He remains a key player but Bayern needs to plan for the future and Gnabry can eventually be a long term replacement for Muller.
The number ten links the attack and midfield. The main duty of this player is to create opportunities for his teammates along with having a good knack of scoring goals. Gnabry possesses these abilities. He also has the strength and pace to spear through defenses.
This is reminiscent of his spell during the 2017-18 season at TSG Hoffenheim when Julian Naglesmann started using Gnabry in a free-roaming role behind the main striker. In this period, Hoffenheim scored 38 goals of which 8 were bagged by Gnabry.
Kovac can deploy Serge Gnabry behind Lewandowski in a 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing him to roam freely with support from Kingsley Coman and Canadian prodigy, Alphonso Davies or new signing Ivan Perisic on the flanks, forming a diamond shape in the attacking zone. This system is expected to fare better in terms of creating chances from an open play. Last season, Gnabry secured 84.6% passes from open play compared with Muller’s 76.4%.
When it comes to putting the ball in the net, Gnabry outshone Muller (398.2 minutes/goal) with 177.4 minutes/goal in Bundesliga 2018-19 by scoring ten goals. Also, in the need for a defensive push, Gnabry’s resilience and speed can outpace that of Muller as the former is good at chasing down opposition and winning individual duels. The only advantage Muller has over Gnabry is the ability to win aerial duels. Gnabry has won 31% of his aerial duels in the league last season compared to Muller’s 44.4%. (Stats courtesy: Bundesliga.com)
The prominent benefit of this system, using Gnabry in the center of attacking midfield would be expected to be seen when Die Roten is trying to hit teams on the break. Bayern’s counter-pressing tactics are projected to enhance given their summer signings of French duo, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard.
Having said that, winning the ball in the defensive half would be better converted into a goal-threatening counter-attack with Gnabry as the first point of contact having received the ball, dribbling past opposition in the middle of the pitch; Coman, Davies or Perisic running down the line on either flank; and Polish giant, Lewandowski waiting at the top, all ready to be fed to finish the ball into the net.