Miasanrot Awards 2022/2023: FC Bayern – disappointment of the season

Georg Separator June 18, 2023

Mané has failed to live up to the high expectations placed in him at FC Bayern. The second half of the season has been nothing short of disastrous, even. As unrealistic and inflated as the expectations were, the current backlash may be just as exaggerated: Mané’s season in retrospect.

Sadio Mané’s good first half of the season

Apart from too many offsides – that was to become a common theme of Mané’s season – and goals disallowed as a result, Mané’s time at FC Bayern got off to a thoroughly positive start. Together with Gnabry, he formed the front row in Nagelsmann’s new 4-2-2-2. In the analysis of the first preparation game, I wrote:

“However, the Mané/Gnabry partnership got the chance to play together for the first time. And they harmonised like an old married couple. They looked for each other, they found each other. Each finished the half with a goal and an assist. There were two more goals from Mané after Gnabry’s passes were ruled out for offside.”

They also had a successful start to the competitive part of the season. By the end of August, Mané had scored five goals in his first six competitive matches. In the course of the first half of the season, he impressed less with individual highlight moments and more with consistency. Mané finished the first half of the season in third place in the minutes played statistics, in addition to eleven goals and four assists. Measured against what he had previously shown at Liverpool, his record in the first few months was close to the optimum, his optimum.

Shortly before the World Cup, which was so important for him as Senegal’s star player, his first half came to an early end when he inflamed the head of his fibula.

Disastrous Rückrunde after World Cup blues and injury

Perhaps Mané hit a mental low when he missed out on the World Cup and his team’s run to the last 16. Maybe the injury was the deciding factor. We don’t know. But the Sadio Mané who played for FC Bayern in 2023 never found his form again.

He played a second half of the season to forget. He only managed one goal in 15 games and lost his regular place. Nagelsmann used him twice from the start, Tuchel four times. In the important Champions League duels against Paris and Manchester City, he only played 55 minutes in total. He was forced to watch his team’s surprising championship on the last matchday in Cologne from the bench for 90 minutes.

In Cologne, Müller, Coman, Sané, and Gnabry were in the starting eleven, and later, when FC Bayern made a raft of changes in attack, Choupo-Moting, Tel and Musiala were all given preference over the runner-up in the recent “Ballon d’Or” vote. This was emblematic of Mané’s deep fall in 2023.

Mané is the disappointment of the season but also a victim of inflated expectations and overreaction

In six years at Liverpool, Mané scored on average every 180 minutes.
In one year in Munich, Mané scored on average every 184 minutes.

FC Bayern wanted a world star, FC Bayern got a world star. But what FC Bayern could never get was a world-class scorer. Mané never scored at the level of the greats in his career, and he was even less of a assist maker.

He was a world star in a combination of consistently good performances, being part of Liverpool’s popular forward line and captaining Senegal to their first African championship. In his six years at Liverpool, he never scored fewer than 21 goals and never more than 34. Ribéry’s best is 44, Lewandowski’s is over 60, and Ronaldo and Messi are in a different league.

So anyone expecting Mané to replace Lewandowski in terms of attacking contribution has set the bar impossibly high.

Nevertheless, it is fair to label him the disappointment of the season:

Even if no records were expected, twelve goals and six assists (sixth in Bayern’s internal scoring charts) are too few. As a player, he was too poor. His exaggerated gambling with the offside line is only the most visible evidence of this. But even apart from that, he too often looked like a foreign body in the game. Too often, he showed technical weaknesses when receiving the ball.

The trend is negative, as the disappointing second half of the season shows.

Outlook: an end to a misunderstanding or a second chance?

Where do we go from here? A move away could be the answer. There is always a market for players like Mané, even if it is in Saudi Arabia. Chalk it up to a bad buy. It happens. Ibrahimović to Barcelona. Jović to Real Madrid. Rivaldo to AC Milan. For all of them, and many others, things didn’t go according to plan at their new club shortly after a big transfer and they moved on. FC Bayern could conceivably even come out of the transfer without major financial damage.

Another solution: Mané stays. Whether or not that makes sense depends on whether he can rediscover his form.

If you consider Hitzfeld’s old rule of thumb, according to which a player needs as long to get back to form as he was injured, Mané would have just returned to form at the end of May. His injury was more serious than it appeared. It is true that Mané missed only nine competitive matches because of the long winter break. But he was out for more than three months from November to February. Perhaps he would have needed more time for his return than he wanted to give himself.

Whether FC Bayern will still have room for Mané depends on their squad planning and tactical preferences. What is Tuchel planning? Which striker will come? And what will Gnabry do?

If a striker like Kolo Muani or especially Firmino comes in, who excels in taking part in build-up play, moving to the outside, dropping off into zone 14, then FC Bayern needs a scoring threat from midfield or on the wings.

The kind of scoring threat that Sadio Mané basically brings with him. Mané scores twice as many goals as he makes assists. His goal-assist ratio of 2.0 is closer to Choupo-Moting (2.4) than to Thomas Müller (1.1), Sané (1.0) or Coman (0.9).

Gnabrys is a comparable finishing player with his 1.7 goals per assist. FC Bayern should not let both of them go at the same time without buying more scoring threat from the wings. Without the goal guarantee of a new striker, Musiala (1.5) alone creates too little goal threat.

If, on the other hand, a striker like Lewandowski (goal-assist ratio 3.8) comes in, who primarily occupies the penalty area and looks for finishes, the goal threat from the wing is not as important. Then assists are more important, e.g. through dribbles and passes from Coman and Sané.

As much as it was wrong to celebrate Mané’s signing as the advent of a messiah, and as much as the criticism of his debut season is justified, it would be wrong to write him off completely. One thing is clear: Mané can do more than he showed in the second half of the season, and there is a world in which Bayern can still benefit from Mané’s strengths and style. These is a world in which he has a great second season for Bayern.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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