All eyes will be on the Bundesliga this weekend as undefeated leaders Bayer Leverkusen host title challengers Bayern Munich. Young stars Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala are likely to be at the centre of the action, so we’ve taken a look at these two remarkable talents.
The biggest game in Europe this weekend undoubtedly takes place in Germany on Saturday when Bayer Leverkusen host Bayern Munich.
Xabi Alonso’s revolution at Leverkusen has been quite something, still undefeated in 30 games in all competitions in the 2023-24 season and top of the Bundesliga by two points.
Inevitably breathing down their necks are Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern, despite the incredible pace at which Leverkusen have been going. They have raised each other to new heights, collecting a total of 102 points so far between them in this season’s Bundesliga, a record in the history of the competition for the top two after 20 games.
Central to the sensational levels of both have been a pair of 20-year-olds with the world at their feet.
Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala are two of the brightest talents to come out of Germany in years. At a time when the national team has been struggling, Wirtz and Musiala have provided hope to the country that they can inspire a strong showing for the host nation at Euro 2024 this summer under Julian Nagelsmann.
Before then, they have the small matter of going head-to-head at club level for one of the more fiercely contested Bundesliga titles in recent years.
Wirtz was snapped up as a teenager by Leverkusen from FC Köln in January 2020, impressing quickly and making his first-team debut before the end of that season. He even scored against – funnily enough – Bayern Munich to become the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever goalscorer at 17 years and 34 days old (Borussia Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko – 16y 28d – broke the record a few months later).
Wirtz established himself in senior football quickly and made 38 appearances (31 starts) in all competitions in 2020-21, scoring eight goals and recording seven assists. Only Moussa Diaby (59) created more chances from open play for Leverkusen than Wirtz (56) that season.
It was 10 goals and 14 assists in all competitions for Wirtz in 2021-22 from just 31 games (27 starts), and again, only Diaby created more open-play chances (68-65). Those numbers were made more impressive considering Wirtz’s season was over by the end of March. Sadly, he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury against former club Köln that would keep him out until the following January.
Some questioned whether Wirtz would be the same player when he returned, but those questions didn’t last long. Since his comeback against Borussia Mönchengladbach on 22 January 2023, Wirtz has played 53 games for Leverkusen (43 starts), scoring 12 goals and adding 23 assists – more assists than any player in Europe’s top five leagues in that time. Only Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes has created more open-play chances (143) and won possession more times in the final third (63) than Wirtz (118 and 60), while only Fernandes (43) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (31) have created more big chances than him (28).
Wirtz has eight goals and 15 assists in all competitions this season. No player in Europe’s top five leagues has created as many open-play chances than his 64, while only Salah (19) has created more big chances than his 18.
His 15 assists are at least three more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, with two more coming in Tuesday’s DFB-Pokal quarter-final comeback win over Stuttgart. With Leverkusen 2-1 down, Wirtz produced a perfectly weighted through ball for substitute Amine Adli to race through and equalise, before his sublime cross to the back post for Jonathan Tah in the 90th minute allowed the centre-back to head in the winner.
Wirtz also has more attacking sequence involvements (148) than any other player in the Bundesliga this season, with a nice balance of 43 shots attempted, 46 chances created and 59 involvements in the build-up to a shot.
He has attempted 18 through balls in the Bundesliga this season, with no other player trying more than 13, while his 62 layoffs are at least 12 more than the next-highest player. Only teammate Granit Xhaka (114) and Bochum’s Kevin Stöger (116) have made more progressive passes than Wirtz (111), notable because he generally plays a lot higher up the pitch than those players.
He has also received the fourth-most passes in the Bundesliga (1,076) and has received the most progressive passes (150), showing that he works hard at both finding opportunities to create chances while also making himself available to others off the ball.
Following Wirtz’s sensational solo goal against Freiburg in late October 2023 when he turned poor Nicolas Höfler inside and out, Alonso said of his star: “The things he does, I can’t teach him these things, just like today. There’s only a few players in the Bundesliga who can do this.”
Wirtz is a bonafide wunderkind, as is one particular opponent on Saturday.
Musiala has followed a similar path to Wirtz. He also didn’t come through the youth system at his current club, being signed by Bayern after he left Chelsea’s academy in 2019.
He made his Bundesliga debut just a month after Wirtz and, much like the Leverkusen youngster, didn’t waste any time proving his credentials. His first goal for Bayern in an 8-0 thrashing of Schalke made him the club’s youngest scorer at 17y 205d.
Musiala made only 11 starts in the 2020-21 season in all competitions but made 37 appearances overall and managed seven goals and one assist. No other Bayern player could match his dribbles attempted (7.3) or dribbles completed (4.1) per 90.
Unlike Wirtz, Musiala was eased into regular game time, following his 11 starts in 2020-21 with 18 in 2021-22 from a total of 40 appearances, contributing eight goals and five assists. Alphonso Davies and Kingsley Coman finished slightly ahead of him for dribbles attempted per 90, but his growing influence on the team was becoming clear, especially with his goal to seal a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund that clinched Bayern’s 10th consecutive Bundesliga title.
Musiala’s number of starts rocketed last year with 36 in total, and no other Bayern player made more than his 47 appearances in all competitions. He managed an impressive 29 goal involvements (16 goals, 13 assists) and was even more decisive come the season’s end, scoring the winning goal away at Köln on the last day of the season that snatched the title from Dortmund in the closing moments of the campaign.
Of the seven players from Europe’s top five leagues to complete more dribbles than Musiala (113), only Jérémy Doku (6.5) and Vinícius Júnior (3.7) completed more per 90 than his 3.4, while he created at least 12 more chances from open play than any of his Bayern teammates in 2022-23.
Musiala has seven goals and three assists so far this season in 23 games (19 starts) as he looks to help Bayern find success in both the league and Champions League. Only Leroy Sané (145), Dayot Upamecano (144) and Davies (143) have made more long progressive carries for Bayern (moving the ball forward more than 10 metres) than Musiala’s 91. As you can see below, he performs these carries all over the pitch too.
He’s also been helping Harry Kane take to the Bundesliga like a goalscoring duck to water, and the England captain has been impressed by what he’s seen from Musiala. Kane told TNT Sports shortly after he moved to Munich from Tottenham last year: “Jamal has been fantastic. There’s been a lot of talk about how good he is and how young he is. He’s been great to watch in training and in tight areas how he moves and how he plays forwards. He’s been fantastic to play with so far.”
Both Wirtz and Musiala will be 21 when the Euros come around this summer. With all eyes on Germany as hosts, they will be expected to produce. What better way to prepare for such a pressured situation than by going head-to-head in what promises to be a high-quality and tense title race?
When Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich meet at the BayArena on Saturday, the stakes will be as high as the expectations. Despite Wirtz and Musiala’s formative years, don’t be surprised to see one or both rise to the occasion.