Why Sabitzer is a dream replacement for Eriksen at Man Utd

Neel Shelat
Neel Shelat
  • Updated: 8 Feb 2023 15:17 GMT
  • 7 min read
Christian Eriksen, Marcel Sabitzer, Man Utd, 2022/23
© ProShots

After years of refusing to sign midfielders, Manchester United have suddenly started to bring them in by the dozen. After signing Casemiro and Christian Eriksen in the summer, they reinforced this department with a loan move for Marcel Sabitzer in January.

Their hand was rather forced as Eriksen suffered a medium-term injury, and with a packed schedule, seeking out a reinforcement was a logical step.

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Erik ten Hag managed to raid his former club Bayern Munich to secure Sabitzer, but what attributes led the former FCB assistant to signing the Austria international?

MORE: ‘Killer’ Sabitzer already wants permanent Man Utd transfer

Similarities and differences to Eriksen

While taking a look at Sabitzer, it will also be a worthwhile exercise to compare him with Eriksen since he will presumably be playing a similar role to the Denmark international.

Before that, though, let us start with some background on Sabitzer’s career so far. The 28-year-old midfielder played for a number of youth academies in Austria before breaking through at Admira, after which he earned a move to Rapid Wien.

Within a year and a half, he was signed by RB Leipzig, who were playing in the 2. Bundesliga at the time. After spending a season on loan at sister club RB Salzburg and winning his first major titles, he moved to Germany in 2015. He spent six years there, before joining Julian Nagelsmann on the road from Leipzig to Munich in 2021.

MORE: The quote that shows why Ten Hag was so desperate for Sabitzer

He has not had a great time in Bavaria, though. He has struggled to establish himself as a starter in midfield ahead of the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and even Jamal Musiala. So, a move away, even if temporary, makes sense for him.

Sabitzer is a versatile player. He started off as more of an attacking midfielder and has even played a bit wider in the 4-2-2-2 formation that is synonymous with Red Bull football but has moved to more of a deeper position at Bayern.

He should be expected to play a similar role at Manchester United, so let us take a look at his stats from his time with the German champions. We will have to use the 2021/22 Bundesliga season to take a look at Sabitzer’s stats as his playing time has been very limited this season.

Sabitzer in 2021/22
© ProShots - Sabitzer in 2021/22

A look at his pizza chart shows how well-rounded the Austrian international is. His stats show a heavy involvement in possession, a significant contribution to ball progression both through passing and carrying, as well as a notable impact in the final third.

Comparing his stats to Eriksen’s work at Manchester United so far this season, we can see that the two are closely matched in almost all significant metrics – a very positive sign for a mid-season replacement.

Eriksen v Sabitzer
© ProShots - Eriksen v Sabitzer

Sabitzer’s heatmap in the league is a bit skewed to the left flank since he had to fill in at left-back during a bit of an injury crisis, but focusing on his involvement in midfield it is clear that he likes to work in the halfspaces, especially in the opposition half.

Sabitzer heat map
© ProShots - Sabitzer heat map

Eriksen has been operating in similar areas this season too, although he has almost solely been used on the left side of midfield. He has a good bit of activity in his own half too as he often tends to drop back to assist Casemiro in the build-up phase, before pushing up further in the opposition half.

Eriksen heat map
© ProShots - Eriksen heat map

This is something that Sabitzer will have to start doing a little bit more than he has been at Bayern, but that should not be a problem. As aforementioned, his ball progression ability is among his strengths. As far as his passing is concerned, he can spray the ball around to all parts of the pitch.

Sabitzer's passing
© ProShots - Sabitzer's passing

The Austria international also tends to drive forward with the ball at his feet when he spots an opening, so his progressive carrying is noteworthy too. Last season, he averaged close to 2 progressive carries per 90 in the league.

Sabitzer's progressive carries
© ProShots - Sabitzer's progressive carries

There are a couple of aspects where Sabitzer seems to have the edge over Eriksen too. One of those is his defensive work. While the Dane is no slouch, the ex-Rapid Wien man is better at pressing than him, which is to be expected of a player who has spent so many years at RB Leipzig.

Additionally, Sabitzer has the potential to carry more of a goal threat too. Throughout his career, he has shown a tendency of getting into good shooting positions inside the box while also letting fly from range when the opportunity presents itself.

Sabitzer's shot map
© ProShots - Sabitzer's shot map

Generally, players who tend to take a lot of low-percentage shots (from distance) are told to be a little more thoughtful before pulling the trigger, but you cannot ask someone with the ball-striking ability of Sabitzer to do that.


Quite clearly, Manchester United have identified a great replacement for Eriksen in Sabitzer. All indications are that the Austria international will be able to play the ex-Ajax man’s role very well, perhaps even adding some additional dimensions to it.

The player himself will be pleased with this transfer as well given his lack of playing time at Bayern as well as the fact that he has not had to move to a club of lower stature in search of regular minutes. The German champions may even be willing to part with him permanently in the summer, as they signed Ryan Gravenberch in 2022 but have failed to offer him the minutes he would have expected.

On the whole, this is a very sensible move for all involved, which is relatively uncommon for a deal forced by unforeseen circumstances in January. On a broader level, it shows the improvements Manchester United have made in their recruitment over the last year.

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