Marcel Sabitzer's last-minute move to Manchester United can 'work well for both parties'

Austrian seen as hardworking all-round midfielder who can adapt to Premier League quickly

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Timing is everything in football. Late on Monday, Manchester United discovered the extent of Christian Eriksen’s injury following an awful tackle from Reading’s Andy Carroll in Saturday’s FA Cup match.

The Dane, who has started all but two of United’s Premier League games this season and made seven assists, will be out until at least April with an ankle injury. Mindful that the transfer window was still open and that fellow midfielders Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay were also injured, United acted quickly and contacted Bayern Munich on transfer deadline day.

Bayern’s Marcel Sabitzer was a player United felt they could sign on loan until the end of the season in a move that could potentially work well for all parties. He was seen as the best attacking midfielder available for a short-term loan.

Sabitzer’s 2021 Bayern move from RB Leipzig, where as captain his stock had risen and he’d also been Austrian player of the year in 2017, had not gone as he had hoped. At Leipzig, he averaged more successful passes into the opposition box than any player in the Bundesliga, with Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller for company in 2020. Jude Bellingham was fourth.

That year, Sabitzer was returning to fitness when he came on in Leipzig's 0-5 defeat at Old Trafford in October 2020. He was fully fit when the Leipzig side beat United 3-2 in the final game of the group stage, assisting the opening goal in the second minute and knocking United out of the Champions League. Such performances earned him the move to Bayern for the 2021-22 season.

The move didn’t work out and became an issue this term. The Austrian international, 28, started Bayern’s first five league games, but none of the last 10. He has scored one goal this season and one in the previous one. Given the circumstances, it wasn’t a surprise that Sabitzer, who is married to Ukrainian-born model and German TV personality Katja Kuhne, indicated that he was up for moving to United and the deal was completed swiftly within 12 hours in time to meet the transfer deadline.

The National spoke to several people who know about the player’s talents.

“He’s a very different player to Christian Eriksen, he’s not as elegant, more a hardworking and more of an all-round midfielder,” said former Schalke 04 and Chelsea player Bjarne Goldbaek, who lives in Germany where he works as a football agent.

“Eriksen is smooth and light and makes world-class passes and, while they both take good free kicks, Sabitzer doesn’t have the same X factor as Eriksen – at least on the field.”

“Sabitzer has not been seen as a success at Bayern Munich so far since signing from Leipzig, despite being signed by [Julian] Nagelsmann, his former coach at Leipzig,” added Goldbaek. “I don’t expect him to make Manchester United significantly better, but he should be able to adapt to the Premier League as he’s strong and physical. And I can understand why United signed him after the injury to Eriksen.”

"Sabitzer is a very good player,” one top-level analyst said. “Dynamic, good stamina, aggressive. He presses well when his team are in shape and is good at counter-press in transitional moments.

“He was the main man at Leipzig but not at Bayern where he had Kimmich, [Leon] Goretzka and [Ryan] Gravenberch. Different gravy, all of them. He found himself not playing enough and when top players don’t play enough they get unhappy. It’s a good signing for United, a player that United need. Eriksen is good going forward, but Sabitzer gives United something at both ends. I think it will work well for both parties.”

Bayern Munich supporter Sebastian, who travels home and away to watch his team, said: “Sabitzer joined Munich at the request of [Julian] Nagelsmann, who thought a lot of him from RB. In Munich and also in the ultra scene, we didn’t really know what to make of it. Our midfield was already well-staffed, although an Austrian always fits in well with the Bayern mentality.

“In the first year he hardly played but at the start of this season he had a good, injury-free preparation and could therefore play. But he has never asserted himself against Kimmich, Goretzka, Musiala and Co.

“A few days ago it was also announced that Konrad Laimer (also Austrian, a midfielder and from RB) will move to Munich in the summer. I think Sabitzer would like to assert himself at Man United and also stay, because the chances after the transfer of Laimer of playing time are even lower than now.”

With two games a week in four competitions, Sabitzer will receive playing opportunities, just as fellow January loanee Wout Weghorst has since he arrived two weeks ago.

Sabitzer, who started at Admira Wacker before moving to Rapid Vienna, RB Leipzig and a loan to their sister club RB Salzburg, said: “Sometimes in life you have to make quick and important decisions. From the moment I heard about this opportunity I knew it was right for me. I am a competitive player; I want to win and help the club achieve its aims this season.

“I feel that I am at my peak as a player, and that I can contribute a lot of experience and energy to the squad. I’m excited to start with my new teammates and manager and to show my qualities to Manchester United fans.”

John Murtough, Manchester United Football Director, said: “Marcel is a player that we have watched for a long time. The opportunity arose quickly, and we knew that he was someone with the ability and character to make an impact. He adds further quality to our squad and experience to the dressing room, and all of us are pleased to be welcoming him to Manchester United.”

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Updated: February 01, 2023, 4:07 PM