Miasanrot Awards 2021/2022: FC Bayern rising star of the season
Once again it is Jamal Musiala who has played his way into the hearts not only of Bayern fans. So it is no surprise that he was voted Miasanrot Rising Star of the Season by a large margin.
The 19-year-old celebrated his third championship in his third season at Bayern, in which he played a veritable part. In the course of the season, the Stuttgart-born player took a step into the international limelight. With his innate talent and further growth potential, there is much is to be expected of him yet.
Musiala appeared in 40 of 47 competitive matches last season, registering 1,980 minutes (47% of theoretically available playing time). That is enough for 14th place in the squad’s usage statistics. In the previous year, he was ranked 17th.
This was also accompanied by a rise in the rotation from talent to candidate for the regular squad, even when competitors are fit. Musiala was given 18 starts.
In the big games, coach Julian Nagelsmann trusted him only to a limited extent. He was never in the starting eleven in the league games against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, but he made five appearances in ten Champions League games.
Left, right, centre? Offensive, central, defensive? Could he even play right up front?
According to transfermarkt.de, Musiala was used in six different positions, mainly in the centre.
In particular, his positioning as Goretzka’s deputy as part of the “double six” alongside Joshua Kimmich came as a surprise to some outsiders. But Musiala visibly embraced the defensive duties of the role. According to whoscored.com, he averaged 6.9 successful defensive actions (successful tackles, intercepted passes, blocked passes or shots) per 90 minutes in his starting midfield appearances. That is well in the range that an international defensive specialist like Casemiro delivers (6.6 in the past season). Even though defensively he can probably never match Real’s Brazilian in terms of quality and made wrong decisions here and there, the numbers show that he can also be used without regret in this position.
Musiala registered 14 scroer points with eight goals and six assists, an increase of six scorer points compared to last year. On average, he scored 0.64 times per 90 minutes.
This puts him behind Müller, Gnabry and Sané in terms of efficiency and ahead of Coman, Kimmich or Goretzka.
FC Bayern midfielders Scorer Scorer per 90 Thomas Müller 38 0,96 Serge Gnabry 27 0,88 Leroy Sané 29 0,88 Jamal Musiala 14 0,64 Kingsley Coman 14 0,60 Corentin Tolisso 3 0,51 Joshua Kimmich 15 0,40 Leon Goretzka 6 0,27 Marcel Sabitzer 2 0,18
In the article on Musiala’s selection as player of the month at the beginning of the season, I wrote: “He brings elements to the game that not many other footballers do. Many can do extended tempo dribbles with the ball when they have lots of space in front of them. But Musiala also dribbles into and out of tight spaces. Whether it be a dribble or a precise short pass, Musiala finds solutions that others do not see. He really shines when he is put under pressure. The tighter the space, the clearer Musiala finds the gaps.”
In such situations, Musiala seems as if he sees faster. As if he processes events on the pitch and the situation around him faster than his teammates and opponents.
What sounds like science fiction has already become part of scouting and neuroathletic training practice at some clubs. For in fact, not all people see equally fast. Some people “see faster”, that is, they process the information they take in with their eyes more quickly. As a result, the time around those who see faster runs more slowly in their perception. You can imagine this effect as in the classic film “Matrix”, although of course much less pronounced. When Musiala’s tackling opponent comes at him in slow motion, it is easier for him to avoid this tackle.
While it is now possible to measure a player’s visual or processing speed, it is still an open research question in neuroscience to what extent this talent is innate and to what extent it can be acquired and nurtured.
Regardless of whether Musiala really does “see faster”, with his abilities he manages to solve problems on the football pitch that others cannot.
One of the main challenges in modern football is to break free from opponents’ pressing in build-up play. Musiala’s talent for being able to receive and process the ball under pressure without his team losing the ball is immensely important for this. This is all the more true as Bayern’s back four no longer has the high level of suaveness on the ball of the times of Alaba, Hummels, Boateng and Lahm and is therefore easier to be put under pressure.
Musiala is no less valuable in FC Bayern’s forward play in the front third. In most games, Nagelsmann’s team has to deal with opponents sitting back and leaving little space for their opponents’ combinational play. Musiala’s talent for moving past opponents on the proverbial dime and his precise passes in confined spaces ensure that, despite parked buses, his team is able to create goal-scoring opportunities from open play.
If Musiala is valuable for FC Bayern in various roles, where should Nagelsmann best use him?
The nominal position is less decisive than the effective on-pitch role he fills.
He is not a winger like Robben or Coman. He does not have Robben’s penetrating power and long-range shooting ability; he is not the type of dribbler who breaks through on the outside like Coman and then hits a cross. But he could be the type of winger Ribéry once was. Also right-footed, he could dribble from the outside left to the inside, slalom through the penalty area, then pass or finish himself. The offensively strong Alphonso Davies providing the width would be a fitting tandem partner for him in this role.
He is not a number 10 like Müller in a 4-2-3-1. Without the ball, also due to his age, he is not yet a conductor and organizer of his team’s pressing. With the ball, he does not yet come close to Müller’s assist output. And yet Musiala brings important qualities to the central playmaker position. Who, if not Musiala, is capable of dribbling into the penalty area from there or of setting up his team-mates in tight spaces? So far, Müller has been Nagelsmann’s first choice in this capacity, even when during the later stages of the season he was unable to match his outstanding performances from the first half of the season. Will there be a generational conflict in the central position in the Bayern team in the future? Or will Nagelsmann find a system for both players?
He is not a number eight like Leon Goretzka, who can cover all spaces box-to-box. He still lacks the presence for that, especially without the ball. But he brings other aspects of a strong number eight. The parallels to Modric and even more so to Iniesta are obvious. Both feel (or felt) most comfortable when they play together in a true three-man midfield in a V formation with a structuring anchor six (Casemiro, Busquets) behind them and another technically gifted number eight next to them (Kroos, Xavi). Kimmich would be a world-class partner, but the Bayern squad lacks a deep six for a Real- or Barca-style midfield three, regardless of whether he would interpret the role like Casemiro, Busquets or Xabi Alonso.
In the course of the transfer discussions about Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mané, there was a discussion that Nagelsmann could switch to a more flexible system in a post-Lewandowski era, perhaps to a 4-3-3 despite the lack of an anchor six, perhaps to a 4-2-2-2, perhaps something completely different. It will be exciting to see what plans the Bayern coach has for Jamal Musiala.
Since moving to Bayern from Chelsea FC three years ago, Musiala’s upward trajectory has been a steep one. The development of young players is not always linear. Who knows how Musiala will cope with the coming tightly-packed season, including the World Cup in mid winter. FC Bayern and their fans should be patient.
However, if the season goes without any major setbacks, Musiala’s next steps should be measured against the following milestones:
- Finding a steady role/position in the team
- Ranking in the top 10 in usage statistics by minutes played
- Scoring over 20 points in all competitions
If he achieves these milestones, he may soon be in contention for the Player of the Season award.