London — Manchester City travel to Hoffenheim on Tuesday desperately needing a win to kick-start a Champions League campaign that began with a shock 2-1 defeat to Lyon for the competition favourites.
There should therefore be no shortage of motivation for Pep Guardiola’s men, but one member of the squad will be especially keen to make a big impression back in Germany. Leroy Sane was one of the stars of City’s romp to a record 100 Premier League points and the League Cup last season. He was crowned Young Player of the Year in England thanks to a stellar return of 14 goals and 19 assists in all competitions.
However, that still was not enough to earn him a place in Germany’s World Cup squad as Sane was surprisingly cut from Joachim Loew’s 23.
Sane may have had the last laugh as the defending champions crashed out in the group stages — the first time in 80 years Germany had fallen at the first hurdle.
The pace, direct running and eye for a quick shot at goal possessed by the former Schalke winger were all traits missing from a laboured and predictable Germany in Russia.
Yet, there was no time for Sane to feel vindicated as on his return to club duty he was similarly shunned by Guardiola, sparking doubts over his attitude off the field.
"Sometimes you have the feeling with Leroy’s body language that it is all the same whether we win or lose. He has to improve his body language," said Germany’s vice-captain Toni Kroos even as Sane was recalled to Loew’s squad for September’s Nations League opener against newly crowned world champions France.
'Pep has a problem'
"He was fantastic for City last year but Pep has the same problem at the moment — he’s trying to get the best out of him so he can perform better."
If Guardiola was looking for a reaction, he has got what he desired. After being dropped for City’s first four Premier League games of the season, Sane scored just two minutes into his return against Fulham and has created a goal in all three of his appearances since.
That included Bernardo Silva’s consolation against Lyon as Sane came off the bench to transform a pedestrian first-half performance that has put City under pressure to bounce back this week.
"Leroy has played really good the last few games," said Guardiola after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Brighton in which Sane created Raheem Sterling’s opening goal.
Guardiola is notoriously demanding of his players’ professionalism. But having racked up titles in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now City, the coach knows which players are worth persisting with.
"We never — even in this period when he didn’t play — doubted Leroy’s quality," said Guardiola after Sane’s instant impact against Fulham.
Sane heads back to Germany with a chance to show his compatriots what they were missing in a rare summer of sorrow at international level.