Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala, Germany have two of the brightest young players in world football to call upon. They also happen to be going head-to-head on Matchday 25 when Bayer Leverkusen take on Bayern Munich…
Two prodigious midfielders with the world at their feet: how do Wirtz and Musiala compare? bundesliga.com takes a closer look.
First, let’s qualify that these pair are indeed wunderkinder by looking at some of the records they already have to their names.
Wirtz made his Bundesliga debut in a 4-1 win at Werder Bremen in May 2020, replacing Kai Havertz – who scored twice that day – as Leverkusen’s youngest-ever player just 16 days past his 17th birthday. Little more than two weeks later he was steering his first top-flight goal beyond Manuel Neuer no less, and although he was subsequently overtaken by Borussia Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko as the league’s youngest scorer, Wirtz is now the greenest player ever to reach 10 Bundesliga goals, something he managed 208 days quicker than former Germany superstar Lukas Podolski.
Little more than two months older than Wirtz, Musiala has been just as quick out of the blocks. His Bayern debut came in June 2020 when he replaced Thomas Müller in a 3-1 win over Freiburg at 17 years, three months and 26 days of age, making him the champions’ youngest-ever player.
His first Bundesliga goal was claimed on the opening day 8-0 drubbing of Schalke in 2020/21 and he added a UEFA Champions League strike to his collection in a 4-1 win over Lazio in February of that season, making him Bayern’s youngest goalscorer in both competitions at the time. It was not long before Musiala, now 20, became the first 18-year-old to have five Bayern goals to his name.
What position do they play?
Whilst both are nominally attacking midfielders, Wirtz has evolved into something of a midfield string-puller. In 2020/21, his first full campaign as a pro, Wirtz lined up on the flanks – invariably the right one – in more than half of his Leverkusen appearances. Since then, however, he has become literally central to everything Die Werkself do, playing at No.10 and flanked by Moussa Diaby, Adam Hlozek, Amine Adli, Sardar Azmoun and Patrik Schick.
“He’s a brilliant player, a different player to Havertz, but he’s playing very well so far for Leverkusen,” former Germany midfielder Didi Hamann told FreeSuperTips. “The only thing he lacks is a yard of pace, but I think he makes up for it with the positions he takes up. He’s stepped up so far, you can see he’s a leader in this team with his performances. I don’t think I’ve seen a better central midfielder at his age in decades.”
With Müller, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich hogging the central midfield positions at Bayern, Musiala was initially something of an impact sub when he began his first-team breakthrough. He managed six Bundesliga goals in 26 league outings in 2020/21 and followed that up with five in 30 last season, although 18 of those appearances were from the bench.
How prolific are they?
Musiala is now very much a first-team mainstay, starting 20 of Bayern’s 24 Bundesliga assignments so far in 2022/23, contributing team-high numbers for both goals (11) and assists (eight). Wirtz, still feeling his way back to full fitness after missing much of the 2022 calendar year with a serious cruciate ligament injury, has shown his attacking class too, with four assists in eight games this term.
As such, Musiala leads the way in terms of goal involvements per minute, averaging one every 87 minutes, while Wirtz is at 109. Musiala also averages a shot or a pass to a shot every 19 minutes, compared to 29 minutes for Musiala.
“As Julian Nagelsmann said the other day, he plays as if he has a magnet on his foot,” explains neuro-athletics specialist Steffen Tepel. “In terms of dribbling, you can’t teach him that much even at 18; his imagination in one-on-one situations is simply a special gift. He has an incredibly good feel for where the ball is around him and what’s happening in the zone he’s in.”
Big game importance
Both players do it at the top level. Wirtz’s first Bundesliga goal was against Bayern, and he has since found the target against Leipzig, Union Berlin and Dortmund (twice) in the Bundesliga, as well as a goal in each game against Monaco in the recent UEFA Europa League knockout round playoffs.
With Musiala, it would be quicker to list the teams he hasn’t scored against. A key member of Nagelsmann’s attack, this season alone he has scored against Eintracht Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Union, while he has started five of Bayern’s seven Champions League games, including both round of 16 legs against Paris Saint-Germain.
Both are also set to play leading roles for Germany under Hansi Flick, who will no doubt keep a close eye on the duo when Leverkusen host Bayern on Sunday.
Who will come out on top this weekend is tough to call, but the conclusion that both will dominate their (mid)fields for the next generation appears to be increasingly unavoidable.