ᑕ❶ᑐ Marcel Sabitzer: dynamic midfielder who is not liked at Bayern Munich

Marcel Sabitzer (center) helped RB Leipzig beat Manchester United in their Champions League group match in December 2020

Manchester United’s loan for Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich on transfer deadline day was one of the most surprising offers of any record window.

United manager Erik ten Hag was forced into the market on Tuesday by the news on Tuesday that Christian Eriksen was out for at least three months with an ankle injury, and he quickly set his sights on Sabitzer – a player the club has been eyeing for a long time.

But why has the 28-year-old Austria international been identified as the man to close the gap at Old Trafford and could Bayern’s fourth-choice midfielder thrive as Manchester United look to finish in the Premier League’s top four?

The unwanted Bayern midfielder

Sabitzer’s loan was only made possible because Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann agreed to let one of his replacement midfielders go.

The decision shows how much Sabitzer’s position at the club has changed. Initially, when Nagelsmann’s move to Bayern started in 2021, he was desperate to take his former midfielder from RB Leipzig with him.

However, he was never able to claim a place in the starting XI when all of his direct competitors for the number six role became available. In the end, he trailed Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Jamal Musiala in the pecking order.

With the Bundesliga giants securing the services of Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer this summer, it’s clear that Sabitzer has no future for Bayern.

Initially he intended to stay until the end of the season, but he opportunistically took the opportunity to move to England.

“Sometimes in life you have to make quick and important decisions. From the moment I heard about this opportunity, I knew this was what I needed,” said Sabitzer when announcing the transfer.

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A second chance for Sabitzer?

The next few months offered him a second chance to establish himself among the top midfielders in Europe. It is understood United scouts have highlighted Sabitzer’s leadership skills in their reports and rated him as a versatile forward with quality technical skills.

Sabitzer started his career as a fast and energetic winger, playing for four different clubs in Vienna before joining the football organization Red Bull. He made his first appearance for RB Leipzig in 2015 as the wealthy newcomer tries to secure promotion to the Bundesliga.

He quickly became an integral part of Ralf Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s 4-2-2-2 systems under the two Leipzig managers, being paired at the back of the two forwards with Sweden international Emil Forsberg.

They expect both of them to be more than wingers as they need to show their game and know when to move deep, act like a number 10 would.

Sabitzer has excelled in this role for years, but because he isn’t one of the most explosive players in the Bundesliga, he has occasionally been put on trial in the central position.

Nagelsmann decided to hire Sabitzer primarily as a number six after the 2020 winter break, and one of his favorite pupils immediately emerged at a high level as a central attacking midfielder, helping Leipzig in the Champions League semi-finals that same year.

Marcel Sabitzer: the dynamic midfielder who fell out of favor at Bayern Munich
Marcel Sabitzer has scored for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga this season

Sabitzer can’t be just a little playful

Around this time, more and more clubs saw Sabitzer. United scouts, among others, will applaud the Austrian’s tactical versatility, but doubts remain about what makes him special.

Sabitzer was not a breakthrough passer, or consistent one-on-one success. The best he could do was push his team out of their own area and then pick their place once the team had stepped onto the field.

That Sabitzer scored five of his nine goals in 2019-20 from a shot from outside the box is partly a result of his understanding of positioning and movement behind the line.

He probably has more in common with United midfielder Donny van de Beek, who is currently recovering from a knee injury, than Eriksen, as the Dane reads the pitch better and exposes defensive weaknesses more quickly than Sabitzer.

Sabitzer, however, can be a dynamic midfielder who keeps pressing from the back and is comfortable playing in all areas of the pitch.

Following Leipzig’s €14 million transfer to Bayern, he has rarely been able to shine – making just seven starts for the German side this season.

He had a string of starting appearances in the second half of the 2021-22 season but will never anchor Bayern’s midfield, unlike his roles at Leipzig and the Austrian national team where he was the one to dictate possession.

This will be a test for Ten Hag to integrate Sabitzer into his growing team.

Austria doesn’t have the CV to become an immediate leader, especially since he is seen as a temporary replacement for Eriksen.

United made a clever last-minute decision on deadline day and arguably found the best short-term solution available – now Ten Hag must find a way to make it work.

Marcel Sabitzer: the dynamic midfielder who fell out of favor at Bayern Munich

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Marcel Sabitzer: the dynamic midfielder who fell out of favor at Bayern Munich

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