Tuesday’s Der Klassiker between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich looks set to play a decisive role in where the Bundesliga title ends up, and the game itself could conceivably be decided by the two teams’ options on the flanks.
There is something deeply satisfying and exhilarating about an effective, attack-minded wing partnership, and there have been many such combinations down the years that fit the bill.
Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos, Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben, Djalma Santos and Garrincha – the list goes on.
While there are also many effective flank pairings in modern football, when considering which are the most effective from an attacking sense, it is difficult to look past those served up by Germany’s big two.
Although Jadon Sancho has only been fit enough to make a couple of substitute appearances since the Bundesliga resumed, there is every chance he will be back in the starting XI on Tuesday, with Achraf Hakimi, Alphonso Davies and Serge Gnabry all likely to feature as well.
All four are enjoying fine seasons – below, we examine just how effective the quartet have been.
Hakimi vs Davies
Given they’ll both be operating on the same side of the pitch, Hakimi and Davies will likely spend a significant amount of time in close proximity or running at the other, hoping to punish any defensive lapses. Even watching it could be exhausting, given how quick they are.
Both are more renowned for their attacking tendencies than defensive nous, which is certainly understandable with respect to Davies, who is effectively in his first season as a full-back. A straight comparison highlights plenty of common strengths when they are unshackled.
Davies’ remarkable pace has attracted attention at times this term, and with good reason – his top speed of 35.3km/h is second only to Kingsley Coman (35.7km/h) in the Bayern side, though Hakimi clocks in as the quickest player since these records began in the Bundesliga, having got up to 36.5km/h.
Bayern youngster Davies shades it in terms of ball carries (running with possession for at least five metres), however. He embarks on 19.9 per game, 0.4 more than Hakimi, while Davies holds on to the ball for 12.4m on average – the Dortmund right-back keeps it for 11.5m.
Davies has also attempted more take-ons (118 to 113), has a better dribble success rate (58 per cent to 56 per cent) and runs an average of 11.2km per 90 minutes, 600m more than Hakimi.
Nevertheless, Hakimi’s 146 carries for more than 10m is a Bundesliga-high, and while Davies negligibly edges him out in many of the aforementioned metrics, the Moroccan’s 14 Bundesliga goal involvements is more than double that of the young Canadian.
Either way, it is clear to see both full-backs play a significant role in driving their respective teams up the pitch – Davies might be in for a more robust test of his defensive capabilities in this contest, however.
Sancho vs Gnabry
It’s worth pointing out neither player is exactly guaranteed to start – fitness issues have meant Sancho only made substitute appearances in Dortmund’s past two matches, while Gnabry was on the bench at the weekend.
However, given their respective records this term, if they are in top condition, there is little doubt both will start. It is the biggest match of the season, after all.
Sancho and Gnabry have enjoyed immensely productive campaigns. The Bayern winger has had a hand in 20 Bundesliga goals, while the England international hit 30 with his 16th assist of the season at the weekend when setting up Hakimi.
Sancho is way out in front in terms of take-ons, having attempted a league-high of 131 this term, completing 47 per cent. Gnabry has looked to beat his man 92 times, succeeding 48 per cent of the time.
But there are fundamental differences between their respective styles of play when in possession.
Gnabry is more likely than his counterpart to end a carry with a shot, doing so 29 times in 2019-20, behind only Timo Werner (36). Similarly, 22 of his successful dribbles have come inside the penalty area – a joint-high for the division with Robert Lewandowski and Marcus Thuram.
By comparison, Sancho has only completed eight dribbles in the box and just 14 of his carries ended with a shot. However, eight of them have led to an assist, which is a Bundesliga record in 2019-20 and seven more than Gnabry.
This suggests, to a certain degree, that Gnabry lacks some of the awareness of Sancho, or at the very least possesses more of a single-minded approach.
The data also highlights Sancho’s slightly deeper role, which is backed up by the fact he tends to run further (11.2km per match to 10.7km), sprint more (35.5 per match to 34.1) and has reached a higher top speed (34km/h, to 33.2km/h) than Gnabry.
While Sancho arguably comes out on top generally, there’s no doubting both are exceptional talents and if they get anywhere close to their best on Tuesday, either he or Gnabry could light up the Klassiker by themselves.