As auditions go, Marcel Sabitzer’s couldn’t have gone any better.
The versatile RB Leipzig No.7 netted twice in the Bundesliga side’s 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday evening as the Germans progressed to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition.
His first was a driven effort from outside of the penalty area. His second, a deft header from just outside the six-yard box. Granted, Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris should have done better for both goals but those efforts showcased what Sabitzer is all about.
The 25-year-old is capable of the sublime – this strike against Zenit is one of the goals of the Champions League – but he’s also a reliable goal threat, too, regularly getting into the box to support RB’s attackers.
He’s one of RB Leipzig’s underrated gems. But with Die Rotten Bullen having in-demand players such as Timo Werner, Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté, you could be forgiven for not realising just how much of a difference-maker Sabitzer can be.
Tottenham’s interest in the Austrian international predates the meeting between the two sides. But after his two-goal showing against José Mourinho’s men, he left a lasting impression. According to Calciomercato, Spurs are battling neighbours Arsenal for Sabitzer’s signature.
Sabitzer’s Spurs brace took his tally to 15 goals in all competitions to go with seven assists. That’s three times as many strikes as he managed last season. In the form of his life under new manager Julian Nagelsmann, the freedom the former Hoffenheim boss has given him has resulted in the former Rapid Wien man bossing proceedings from the right-hand side of the pitch.
Sabitzer has just two years left on his deal at the Red Bull Arena. RB Leipzig don’t have to sell him this summer but if he doesn’t extend his contract, the Bundesliga club will struggle to pocket a big fee for him at the end of next season.
It’s not now or never but the next transfer window could be the RBL’s best opportunity to cash in.
Domestically, Sabitzer is delivering. He’s averaged 0.31 open-play goals (per 90) from an open-play expected goals average of 0.25. He’s added value to his efforts, 0.05 to be precise, and this is evident when looking at his post-shot expected goals numbers.
Sabitzer isn’t reliant on volume, taking just 2.59 shots per 90. For context, this isn’t enough to put him in the top 40 for this metric when compared to other Bundesliga midfielders.
In terms of output, the 25-year-old is a genuinely reliable goal threat from a wide area. These sorts of players are invaluable in the current market. And his work-rate makes him even more desirable. Sabitzer recovers the ball, on average, nearly eight times per 90. It’s safe to say he puts in a shift.
On the ball, Sabitzer ticks all the right boxes. He’s heavily involved, attempting 46 passes per 90 – a decent amount for a wide player. Despite playing 32 per cent of his passes forward, he finds a team-mate with 76 per cent.
Sabitzer is creating 2.2 chances per 90 and he has an expected assists average of 0.20 (per 90). This season in the Bundesliga he’s averaging an assist every five matches and a goal every four.
The graphic above shows the zones in which Sabitzer attempts to pass from. Though primarily deployed on the right, it is odd to see the volume of passes in the right-wing position so much higher than the total he’s attempted centrally. Creative players, no matter where they’re deployed, usually drift inside and look to influence proceedings there.
The fact Sabitzer has attempted almost 200 more passes from the right than in the area normally associated with attacking midfielders is intriguing. Especially when you consider he’s creating, on average, 2.2 chances per 90. It paints him out to be a unique attacker. A playmaker from a wide area who just so happens to be a reliable, and a constant, goal threat.
Sabitzer appears to be readymade for a Premier League switch.
No fee has been mooted but if clubs are able to pry him away from RB Leipzig for anything under £50million, it could be a clever bit of business. For Spurs, he might be able to fill the void left by Christian Eriksen‘s departure to Internazionale. For Arsenal, he could be Mikel Arteta’s answer to Kevin De Bruyne. He’s a player who easily improves both teams.