Jamal Musiala was recently the subject of a tug of war between the German and English football associations as both nations looked to secure the international future of the 18-year-old attacking midfielder. Despite spending most of his childhood in England playing with Chelsea’s academy, Musiala opted to play for the country of his birth and has since been a regular in the German national team.
Whilst this public competition for Musiala was mostly met with raised eyebrows in England, there was far more publicity around Musiala’s decision in Germany. This was a result of some breakout performances last season for Bayern Munich. These have only since been punctuated by further excellent showings from Musiala this season, having not only played himself into the starting XI of new Head Coach Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern, but already proving to be a key cog in their electric attack. This tactical analysis and scout report will give an in-depth analysis of the prodigious attacking talent, highlighting some of the key qualities that have allowed him to already be a standout in the early stages of the 2021/22 Bundesliga season.
Musiala has, thus far in Bayern Munich’s tactics, predominantly operated on the left or right wing. However, rather than playing as an orthodox winger, Musiala will vary his movement between playing far out wide, and drifting inside to play as more of a central attacking midfielder. Regardless of which side he plays on, he will shift across the width of the pitch. However, he will do this more so if operating on the left. If playing on the right, he may still come inside or switch sides even, but as the heat map below testifies, he stays wider on the right side.
Ball retention and dribbling
Musiala is outstanding in possession, showing real quality as a dribbler. Not only does he consistently make a high number of dribbles per 90, but on top of this, he completes a high number of these as well. So far this season, at the time of writing, he has averaged 10.68 dribbles per 90 and has completed 45% of these.
Musiala generally uses his dribbling to progress the ball and create in the final third. However, he is equally effective in deeper areas. He is a press-resistant midfielder who is comfortable receiving the ball when marked tightly. He constantly disguises his intentions in possession—whether that’s a pass or dribble—and shows good awareness of space, changing direction quickly on the ball to shake off a defender.
However, as mentioned, he is best when dribbling in the final third. He shows a youthful confidence and is a genuinely exciting player on the ball. Starting wide, Musiala will draw defenders towards him as he receives. He will take players on, keeping the ball close as he does so, tempting players to lunge in.
He can take on three or four players in close proximity of one another, staying low as he dribbles. This position allows him to change direction quickly and shift the ball from one foot to the other at pace. He will again use misdirection to beat players, using stepovers at will, to draw attempted tackles from defenders and round these attempts.
Musiala regularly scans and is difficult to dispossess as a result. He has good game-reading and will drop into various areas to get on the ball but will also receive with an open body position. When receiving in this way, he can immediately play forward through a pass or dribble. However, Musiala’s awareness of his surroundings means he can create opportunities to draw opponents in with what may be perceived as poor body positioning, although he does this intentionally.
Musiala may look to receive in an attacking area with a flat body position. Defenders will see this as a pressing trigger, stepping forward to close the space and get on Musiala’s back. However, the attacking midfielder changes his body position just before receiving, dropping low as we can see in the following image. He uses this to generate power on his turn and can beat an onrushing defender easily with a touch around the corner.
Final third movement
Whilst when receiving out wide Musiala can create opportunities to drive at opponents, he will drift inside too and is a threat when making a run off the shoulder of a full-back. When Bayern break through the centre of the pitch, Musiala quickly moves inside and will look to be played in behind through any gap in the opposition backline.
However, he reads the game well and sees when this opportunity is closing, perhaps with the near-side centre-back taking a better body position where he could cover any through pass or with the space between the backline and the goalkeeper diminishing so much that any through pass played straight would overrun. As such, Musiala can quickly change the angle of his run and is intelligent in creating room for himself, quickly changing tact and peeling off of the shoulder of the defender, looping slightly away from goal whereby he can receive a through pass at an angle away from goal. We can see this occurring in the next image.
Musiala can finish from wide angles and should be seen by opponents as a legitimate goal threat when receiving in these positions. However, he is unselfish and will look to play in teammates too. This will be highlighted in more detail in the next section.
He is positive with his movement and has excellent effort, which is evident throughout full games. He will work hard to make forward runs, even from positions where others might believe the attack is too far ahead for them to realistically contribute.
This was seen in Bayern’s 4-1 win over RB Leipzig earlier this season. For Bayern’s second goal, Musiala started the move, gaining possession well inside his own half. He beat the press of the Leipzig defender before shifting the ball inside.
As the ball was moved forward, out wide, Musiala burst forward himself through the centre of the pitch, filling the gap between Leipzig’s two centre-backs.
He continued to sprint forward and was able to meet a cross moments later inside the Leipzig penalty area, bringing the ball down before shifting to one side and finishing beyond Leipzig’s keeper, Peter Gulacsi.
Passing, creativity and goal threat
Musiala has had a terrific start to the season with his production levels in the final third. He is averaging 1.07 goals per 90, completely outperforming his 0.4 xG per 90. On top of this, he is making 0.53 assists per 90, whilst producing 2.67 shot assists per 90. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to keep these numbers up over the course of the season but even from his current sample size, these are truly outstanding numbers. It certainly helps that Musiala is playing on a goal-friendly side who are scoring at an alarming rate this season, even by their standards, but he has certain individual traits that show us this is no fluke and Musiala would be a prolific attacking threat in any side.
Firstly, whether it’s a back-heeled pass into the path of an onrushing attacking teammate or a no-look pass inside the area, Musiala consistently demonstrates excellent awareness of the space around him and the positioning of his teammates. Whilst this certainly comes from his frequent scanning, he also clearly uses his peripheral vision when in possession. He will draw players in with his dribbling before releasing a teammate into space in the final third without so much as a single look up from the ball.
He disguises his pass in crucial moments and while this can be a risky tactic, he pulls it off perfectly. Such an example can be seen in the next image from Bayern’s opening DFB-Pokal game against Bremer SV, where Musiala drives forward on the ball in the penalty area before playing a no-look pass back into the path of the awaiting Thomas Müller.
His dribbling has been mentioned in great detail already but Musiala has an end product too. He can beat a player or two but then also provides after the event. There are great dribblers on the world stage like Adama Traoré and Allan Saint-Maximin who attempt a high number of dribblers per 90 and complete a high number too. Whilst Musiala is a different kind of dribbler, the two aforementioned wingers are known for their electric dribbling ability but not for their quality in creating chances with crosses and passes—certainly not with their consistency of quality, at the very least.
Musiala can beat a player in the penalty area and provide an inch-perfect cross or pass afterwards. We can see this from the opening weekend victory over FC Köln in the next image, as Musiala takes the ball to the byline before providing a perfect cut-back cross for the finish.
Whilst he can score from tight angles, he is unselfish and will look to find a better goalscoring option around him before taking on a chance from a difficult angle. He shows composure and technical quality when playing across goal, hitting the ball at a distance away from the keeper and at enough pace so they can’t claim it, and yet still finding the run of the far-side winger moving towards the far post.
Looking at Musiala’s shot map so far from this season, the first thing to notice is that he’s been incredibly potent, scoring with all but one shot when he hits the target. However, another key element to note is that all of these shots come from inside the area. Whilst he may dribble into areas outside the box, from where some players might look to angle a shot at goal, Musiala would rather look to engage in quick combinations, playing a one-two with a teammate to get himself into a much higher percentage shooting area inside the box.
Musiala will carry the ball towards goal, even through a crowded area, if he believes there is a higher percentage shot waiting at the end of the dribble. This can be a risky move, with him sometimes passing up the chance to shoot in open space and choosing to take the ball five yards closer to goal. However, given his outstanding ability at dribbling in tight areas, it can be a highly profitable move and he was able to score against Hertha BSC earlier this season by doing exactly this.
The German national team’s success in getting Musiala to play for them at senior level is likely only going to look like a bigger win as time progresses. Right now, Musiala’s ceiling is sky-high and if he continues to score and produce at the rate he is going at, he will become one of the game’s most prolific teenaged talents—if he isn’t already.
He has the versatility to play across the pitch as an attacking midfielder but, equally, has played in a deeper position and even in a slightly further forward position in his young career thus far. He is already so well rounded at such a young age, displaying high-level dribbling but equally excellent passing/crossing in the final third, intelligent movement, and ruthlessness in front of goal. Musiala will be one to monitor over this season and beyond. With him playing the football he is right now, Bayern are clicking at a very early stage of the season—something which hasn’t always been the case in recent seasons.