Just last month Gael Clichy said his Manchester City team-mate Leroy Sane reminded him of Gareth Bale.
High praise indeed for a 21-year-old who looked largely uncomfortable and unsettled in the character-defining confines of the Premier League until December. It took a first goal against Arsenal to confirm all the pre-season hype about the German as the best of his country’s next generation of footballers may not be just false hope.
Not just another example of a young player built up and then bulldozed when he failed to fulfil potential and justify a substantial transfer fee a la Anthony Martial.
Costing an initial £37 million (Dh170m) from Schalke last summer, Sane was immediately under scrutiny. It was grossly unfair to expect so much from a then 20-year-old so soon, but his rise has been rapid, a testament to his temperament and willingness to learn, adapt and improve.
That first strike on December 18 gave him the belief he needed and to show Pep Guardiola he could be a first-team starter, an integral member of this City side.
Another impressive, intelligent display in yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Arsenal showed how he could not only be the attacking future of the Etihad outfit, but also the world game.
With balance and bewitching ball control, he is in the mould of the magical modern-day wing wonders, those fleet-footed frontmen feared by every full-back.
It was clever how he came inside of Hector Bellerin to race onto Kevin De Bruyne’s wonderful instinctive pass and then showed composure as he rounded David Ospina to put City in front at the Emirates.
Leroy Sané's game by numbers vs. Arsenal:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 2, 2017
100% aerial duels won
4 take-ons completed
Constant threat. pic.twitter.com/kaypx4IhSf
Given Bellerin’s reputation as one of the best right-backs around, it was the kind of ability that marks out world beaters, that makes them such a threat every time they are on the ball and thrills supporters.
Yes, he’s a reminder of Bale, of Ryan Giggs, of Arjen Robben and, if he gets stronger physically, then Cristiano Ronaldo as well. But what about a look of Lionel Messi in him too? With great technique and shooting accuracy, just as the Argentine elevated to a higher level at Barcelona working with Guardiola, so too could Sane under his City boss.
He now has eight goals in the last 15 games, but they have come from just 13 shots on target and against teams such as the Gunners, Spurs and Monaco. The bigger the stage, the bigger the impact it seems.
Like John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, Guardiola should make Sane a development project and also look to get him more involved in his fluid system too.
He has no fear and all the attributes of being a mesmerising matchwinner, not just from the flanks either, and the German international should take note of an opposition rival in how not to see similar talent go to waste.
In scoring Arsenal’s first leveller, Theo Walcott claimed his 18th goal of the season – his best tally since 2013 – but he has always been considered a ‘nearly man’. Since being called up for England’s 2006 World Cup squad at the age of 17, he has never been influential or trusted enough for Arsenal and ignored by his country for recent games.
At 28, he has become a bit-part player when he could have been the main man.
Having proved he belongs at this level, Sane now has to go on and make sure he does not follow Walcott – and be a revelation without regrets.
Manchester United are currently in fifth position in the Premier League table and Saturday’s draw against West Bromvich Albion was another setback for Jose Mourinho’s side.
While Mourinho’s off-the-pitch remarks might not be doing the job for his team, the stats are also not on his team’s side.
One of those, from WhoScored.com (below), tells us that only Bundesliga side Hoffenheim and French outfit Rennes (both 12) have drawn more games than Manchester United (11) in Europe’s top five leagues this term.
And what adds injury to insult is the fact that United’s record at home this season has been really bothering.
Well, it looks like Mourinho might now have to really scratch his head to somehow get United into the top four.
Manchester United: Only Hoffenheim & Rennes (both 12) have drawn more games than Manchester United (11) in Europe's top 5 leagues this term pic.twitter.com/N7Fr2dla3Z— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 2, 2017
Liverpool cruised to a 3-1 win over Everton in the latest installment of the Merseyside derby, moving nine points ahead of their city rivals and likely killing whatever small hopes Everton retained of finishing in the top four.
Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Divock Origi got the goals for the Reds, while Everton youngster Matthew Pennington scored on his first senior start of the season.
Here’s a look at five key stats from the game:
KLOPP’S DERBY MASTERY
Perhaps it’s an extension of how he gets his team to perform in big games – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has a perfect record in the Merseyside derby so far.
That’s now three games, three wins for Klopp – a unique feat in the Anfield side’s history.
Jurgen Klopp: Liverpool's 3-1 win over Everton means Klopp is the first Liverpool manager to win his first 3 Merseyside Derbies #LIVEVE— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 1, 2017
MANE’S HOME COMFORTS
Sadio Mane always seems to show up for Liverpool in the big games – and especially in front of the Anfield crowd.
He scored two against Tottenham earlier in the season and opened the scoring on Saturday with an excellent run and finish.
Sadio Mane: Only Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku have scored more Premier League goals at home this season than Mane (9) #LIVEVE— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 1, 2017
ALMOST A DREAM DERBY DEBUT
22-year-old Matthew Pennington was making his first senior start of the season for Everton, and in the derby no less.
Although he couldn’t mark the occasion with a win, he did have a dream moment – scoring his first goal senior goal in front of the Kop.
Matthew Pennington: Has scored with Everton's first shot on target for Liverpool. A decent game to score your first senior goal in! #LIVEVE— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 1, 2017
LUKAKU GOES MISSING
Ahead of the derby, much was made of the fact that the best striker in either squad would be wearing Everton blue, not Liverpool red.
But Romelu Lukaku had one of his poorer games in an a Toffees shirt, and an improved second-half showing was not enough to hide the fact that the big Belgian was largely invisible for Everton.
KLOPP’S INSPIRED SELECTION
With Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana both not fit to start Saturday’s game, Jurgen Klopp turned to Lucas Leiva to anchor the Liverpool midfield.
Some may have thought that moving James Milner into midfield would have been the better option, but Lucas repaid his manager’s faith.