Since moving to Germany from Arsenal three years ago, Serge Gnabry has scored at least ten goals in the Bundesliga in each campaign. Yet, the German international has catapulted himself into being one of Bayern Munich’s crucial players in what could be seen as a breakout season this year. Fans of German football would have seen the glimpses of greatness in prior seasons but his four goals against Tottenham Hostpur put the footballing world on notice.
Gnabry has contributed to an incredible 29 goals this season in all competitions, which correlates to a goal contribution every 82 minutes. The versatile 24-year-old is starting to become a force to be reckoned with and this tactical analysis will dissect Gnabry’s strongest characteristics and play style.
Goalscoring and finishing
To begin this analysis, we will start by looking at Gnabry’s best attribute – goalscoring. Gnabry is a player that always has an eye for goal whenever attacking and that has helped him achieve a tally of 18 goals this season, with 11 coming in the Bundesliga. He has nearly doubled his shots per game to 3.41, a number that is close to that of a striker.
However, he is still not an elite level finisher by all means as his xG in the Bundesliga is 11.62 which means that Gnabry is finishing the chances he should be but not scoring the chances that he should not be. His conversion rate is not spectacular either, converting 15% of his shots in the Bundesliga, but that is not the best indicator for his ability as a finisher. This might come as a shock especially considering the repertoire of finishes in his locker – most notably the Arjen Robben trademark finish that he has adopted. This should not be seen as a negative though, as his xG per 90 is at 0.64, which is third-best in the league out of players who have played over 900 minutes.
The graphic above shows Gnabry’s shot map from this season. He is picking up promising shot locations with most of his shots being inside the box. This is a key reason for his goal tally this campaign given that the closer to the goal, the higher the chance of scoring. It also illustrations that he does not shoot from a specific area in the box, which shines a light on his versatility as an attacker but his confidence on both feet.
Another great attribute that Gnabry possesses is his ability to beat an opponent with relative ease. His dribbling skill helps him to create chances and thus, has meant that he has become a focal point of Bayern Munich’s attack, especially in the final third. In that regard, Gnabry can be seen as a traditional winger and the numbers don’t lie. The 24-year-old averages 5.32 dribbles per game in the Bundesliga, with 2.57 being successful. This means that Gnabry gets past his man 48% of the time, which is impressive considering that most of Bayern’s opposition like to sit in a deep-block and reduce the space for attackers.
Dribbling, when used correctly and within context, is a powerful tactic in all stages of the match. When analysing Gnabry, we can see that he uses his dribbling in different situations and with a different purpose. With that in mind, we can see him dribble to either fuel the build-up and progress the ball or create chances and direct threat to the opposition’s goal.
The example above showcases Gnabry beating a man to progress the ball. The German recognises that the defender stepped out with speed to close him down and has left open space behind him that he could get into. The defender is overzealous in the challenge and Gnabry is able to nutmeg him and drive into the open space. This leads to an exchange with Lewandowski that puts Gnabry through on goal, but he is unable to score. Quick attacks like this give Bayern a different dimension in their play and with Gnabry picking up an area that he normally does not, it makes it difficult for the opposition to mark him.
In this scenario, Gnabry is able to create a chance from the right-wing position that he has been utilised in most often. He is able to cut in from a wide position and has found himself in a 1vs1 situation with the defender, but a help defender is there for additional coverage. The defender tries to force Gnabry into driving on the right-hand side in order to use the touchline to close the space and stop the attack. However, Gnabry uses his quick and nimble feet to, once again, nutmeg the defender and cut-back the ball for Ivan Perisic who forces the keeper into a great save.
Movement and positioning
As mentioned before, Gnabry is able to get into great goalscoring positions, which is largely down to his great movement and instinctive positioning. Especially on the counter, Gnabry is able to find space and exploit it very well. This points to his great ability to read the game and make the correct decisions whether he is on the receiving end of the pass or playing the ball himself.
Here, he drops in between the lines knowing that the left-winger position is already occupied and he can get the ball in a great area of space. Before he receives the ball, you can see that Gnabry is already looking ahead and identifying what actions he can perform when the ball comes to him. When the ball arrives, Gnabry takes a touch to turn with the ball before putting Lewandowski through on goal with a perfectly weighted pass.
In this example, Bayern Munich are on the counter and Gnabry takes full advantage of the situation. The three defenders in the box are not wary of Gnabry’s run as they are focussed on the ball thus allowing Gnabry to make a blind run to the far post. In this case, Gnabry is unable to convert from close distance but his great blind-sighted runs have become a great trait in the former Arsenal attacker’s game.
An underrated aspect of Gnabry’s game that he has developed this campaign is his great crosses. As a youngster, Gnabry was an attacking midfielder who was able to play key passes and score but he has transformed his game as a creator with his delivery from wide areas. Gnabry attempts three crosses per game with an accuracy of 35.2%, which is a great conversion rate. With targets such as Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka available for him, Bayern have players who are able to score on the floor or in the air making it easier for the German. It has also become a staple of die Roten’s tactics, which is evidenced by the fact they lead the league in crosses.
Gnabry usually picks up positions on the edge of the box and is able to deliver inch-perfect crosses with both feet as shown in the example above. Coutinho makes the blind run and Gnabry finds him but the Brazilian is only able to hit the post from close range.
However, this example shows how good Gnabry’s crossing ability is. He is running with the ball with a defender closing him down and only has two players available to play the pass into, both of which are difficult passes. He opts to cross the ball into Lewandowski, who is also tightly marked, and lifts the ball above the defender perfectly for the Pole. The striker is able to produce a great header that required a great save to be stopped.
This scout report has shown the nuances of Gnabry’s outstanding season that has given Bayern hope that he is the successor to club legend Arjen Robben. The German is already one of the best players in the league and with consistent performances in the next few years, he can establish himself as one of the best in his position. The variety in his attack is frightening and compliments the likes of Lewandowski and Müller exceptionally, which in turn allows Hansi Flick’s team to play an attacking and fluid brand of football.